Families and businesses in the most isolated parts of rural Ireland may have to pay extra fees out of their own pocket under the Government’s €3bn broadband plan.
Taoiseach Leo Varadkar admitted the situation may happen in cases where the cost of rolling out the vital service to individual homes exceeds €5,000. He insisted the number of people affected will be “exceptionally small”.
The Government confirmed it has chosen the consortium led by Irish-American businessman David McCourt as its preferred broadband bidder. At the launch yesterday, cabinet ministers said the project will revolutionise Ireland.
Mr Varadkar, Finance Minister Paschal Donohoe, Communications Minister Richard Bruton, and Business Minister Heather Humphreys were among eight cabinet members who championed the €3bn project.
They said it will begin in the autumn, be in place within seven years, and will help 1.1m people nationwide. In a bid to address concerns over the ballooning price of the project, Mr Varadkar said the broadband plan’s cost will be capped at €3bn and that the Government will be able to “claw back” any extra income made by the firm.
The Taoiseach said that as part of the broadband roll-out, there will be a €100 flat rate connection fee for all households, with the expectation that this charge will be taken into existing service costs by broadband providers.
At the end of the 90-minute briefing yesterday, Mr Varadkar said that, in addition to this cost, in the hardest to reach and most isolated parts of the country, some families and businesses will still have to pay out of their own pocket for the service.
“There’s one caveat to that,” Mr Varadkar clarified when Mr Bruton said people living in certain parts of the country will not face extra costs.
“If it costs more than €5,000 to connect to your particular premises, you’ll be asked for a contribution [for any cost] over the €5,000.
Mr Bruton later said that, even in these cases, it is hoped the McCourt consortium will use its 1%-2% breathing space clause in the still unsigned contract to use a form of wireless access for these homes.
Speaking to reporters before the Government announcement was made, Labour leader Brendan Howlin flagged the individual cost fears, claiming it risks other people being dragged into the net.
“I believe in 100% all-island rollout, yes, I do,” he said. “I believe people are citizens of this Republic, would you say people on an island are entitled to existing services? Yes, they are.
“But nobody’s answered that question [on the extra cost].
“There is a connection cost with the private companies now, if you just do a very crude provision the unit cost is about €5,500 now, and obviously the more isolated are multiples of that.”
The Government has insisted that despite the €3bn cost of the broadband plan, the price will be seen as value in the future and will help to revolutionise businesses and connectivity across the country.