It’s the fourth year of the European Broadband Awards, and once again, Ireland doesn’t figure among the five annual winners.
This year, none of the 15 finalists was in Ireland.
The award celebrates examples of how technology delivers the high quality broadband seen as essential for all Europeans. Unfortunately, it illustrates for Ireland how other member states are passing us out in the area of high-speed telecommunications, and this is especially true for our rural areas.
One of the five winners of the 2018 European Broadband Awards will bring a high speed network to more than 1.7m households in areas of Poland without any prior broadband internet access, or poor services. This will bring new opportunities for communication, work, education and culture in remote areas.
The schedule is to deliver access to high speed broadband network to schools by 2020 and households by 2021.
A winning Danish project provided high-capacity broadband to the inhabitants of a very small island with 110 houses located in the Wadden Sea Unesco world heritage area in Denmark. Their tourist industry now enjoys much better conditions.
There’s a prize also for the Val d’Oise Ultra-Fast Broadband Project in France, based on public funding, which directly contributes to eradicating the digital divide in this French region by allowing those living in rural areas access to ultra-fast broadband, at lower cost.
In 2017, a European Broadband Award went to the roll-out of fibre to all houses in rural Gotland in Sweden, a region with scattered settlements, by boosting household interest to join the fibre nework, while keeping costs low.
In order to make it attractive, at least 85% of permanent residents and about 50% of summer residents were required to join.
Also in 2017, there was a European Broadband Award for a large scale, EU-funded project to deploy broadband in rural areas in Greece previously not connected online.
It provided connectivity to more than half a million people, with €143.8m of the total cost of €199.7m coming from EU structural funds.
Another rural project won an award in 2016, this time in Lower Austria, using point-to-point networks in under-served rural areas, with attractive prices for private and business end users.
Nor have rural areas been forgotten in Scotland, where a 2016 award went to a project bringing broadband to the Scottish Highlands and Islands, in a mountainous terrain stretching 400 km from north to south corridor.
In 2015, three of the five winners had strong rural elements.
A project in Hessen, Germany, represented best practice in organisational set-up and efficient financing of a passive fibre-to-the-home providing a high quality service to rural households and SMEs.
Costs were reduced by clustering investment of different districts in central Germany and by re-using existing passive infrastructure, and leasing dark fibre to private operators.
The RAIN II project in Lithuania won for its work in rural broadband internet connection, building over 5,700 km of a fibre backhaul network in nearly 1,000 rural areas.
In Catalonia in Spain, a model of investment that successfully engaged volunteers, internet services providers, and public administrations brought a high quality of service in remote, very rural and disadvantaged areas, and other similar projects that adopted the same model are now spreading across rural Spain.
The winners have shown there are ways and means, whereas in Ireland, paralysis seems to have set in, due to the failure of the State’s National Broadband Plan.
While the state has failed here, it is private operators who have made breakthroughs in Ireland, not least the two recent European Broadband Awards finalists, enet’s Open Access Fibre To The Home Deployment in Rural North Kerry, in 2017, and the Ludgate Hub in Skibbereen in 2016.