'This is not about Netflix': Rural broadband would transform health services, says Denis Naughten

Former Minister for Communications Denis Naughten has warned that if the proposed National Broadband Plan falters between now and the signing of the contract he does not believe that there will ever be high-speed broadband in rural Ireland.

“If this falters I don't honestly believe that we will ever get high-speed broadband into rural Ireland. I believe for generations to come we'll be talking about haphazard services - it will be a band-aid situation, for a few years it will be good and then it will drop off, it will become a big political issue again.”

Speaking on Newstalk’s Pat Kenny show he acknowledged that the announcement of details for the National Broadband Plan this week was unfortunate timing.

“The timing is very unfortunate. This was ready to go last October, this is not about Netflix for people in rural Ireland that perception is being put out there.”

Mr Naughten also said that when Eir (then Telecom Eireann) was privatised the key infrastructure such as telegraph poles and ducting, should not have been sold.

He dismissed criticism from Labour party leader Brendan Howlin saying that Mr Howlin, along with Robert Watt, the senior civil servant who voiced concern about the plan, had “signed off on the sale of 300 state owned communications masts owned by Coillte, during term of last Government.”

Mr Naughten defended the proposed plan saying that it is going to transform rural Ireland in terms of the health service.

“If because of broadband going into a rural home we can put in monitors and technology for an older person - at some stage over the next 35 years, if we can keep an older person in their home for an extra six weeks rather than going into a nursing home, we've paid for that service.

The opportunities in relation to health are phenomenal, there is a whole range of companies globally looking to provide services to older people who will use Ireland as their base because it will be a test bed because we will be the only country in the world with a fibre connection right across the country, right across rural communities and it will make rural Ireland a very attractive place for foreign direct investment to come in particularly in the health sector.

“It will put us at the cutting edge of that.”

He said it was disingenuous for Fianna Fáil to take its current position in relation to broadband.

“During Fianna Fáil's reign in power in the 90s and the 2000s in particular, I consistently argued that the Government of the day should bring all of the publicly owned broadband networks into one state holding company, that was the ESB network, the Bord Gáis network, the Irish Rail network, the Coillte masts, and the ESB masts - every single Fianna Fáil Minister ignored that call by me over that period of time.

“Instead they brought forward the national broadband scheme which handed broadband in rural Ireland to a private company called Three and that network, which was a wireless mobile network, was obsolete the day the Government launched it.”

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