There is an onus on the Government to deliver broadband to rural Ireland, ministers have said ahead of Cabinet debating a €3bn plan to roll out a national high-speed network. Value-for-money concerns are expected to dominate discussion about going ahead with a private-led consortium’s proposals to extend network coverage to rural Ireland.
Today, Communications Minister, Richard Bruton, will bring recommendations to Cabinet to agree to a tender by a group led by Irish-American businessman David McCourt to roll out broadband coverage to 500,000 homes and premises. Taoiseach Leo Varadkar has already signalled that the bill could be capped at €3bn.
If the deal is agreed by Government, as is expected, a series of documents will be released, including proposals around alternatives and why other options could cost more and take longer.
Up to 11 alternatives were examined, including using the ESB and its infrastructure to connect parts of rural Ireland. The Government also looked at a state-led model, but which may have appealed to the private sector for completion in the long run.
Speaking at an event in Dublin ahead of the Cabinet meeting, Justice Minister Charlie Flanagan, a rural TD, said he wants to acknowledge the importance of broadband for the country, as well as for his constituency, Laois-Offaly.
He said there would be a “comprehensive debate” about the proposed plan at Cabinet. Asked about the State not owning the network, Mr Flanagan said:
“We have seen, in recent times, thanks to the successes of the current Government, that we now have almost full employment. We see consequential infrastructure challenges on the city of Dublin.
“I believe it is important encouraging people to live and work in the regions. They would have an entitlement to broadband facilities. I believe that is absolutely essential, in the context of whatever decision is made by Government.”
Culture Minister Josepha Madigan pointed to a 2016 promise by the coalition that a fast network would be provided. “There is a commitment in the programme for government that we will deliver broadband to every person in the country. That’s our intention.”
Ms Madigan dismissed concerns that some households might not pay for broadband. “Once the facilities are available, I think they will take it up. It is very important to people’s livelihood that they have adequate broadband. That’s why we want to roll it out.”
Alternatives included leaving certain areas without broadband. Reducing the intervention area by 5% would save €300m. But this would mean not connecting 3,000 premises in Cork, 1,500 in Galway, and 1,900 in Donegal. Reducing the final coverage by 20% would save €650m.
You can see if your area is covered on this interactive map here