The cost of rolling out broadband across the State could cost the Government well over €1bn — considerably more than currently anticipated, an expert has claimed.
John Earley, CEO at business broadband provider Airfibre, said he feared current funding levels provided by the Government to shore up the National Broandband Plan (NBP) would fall short, leaving many rural homes without internet connections.
The NBP is government policy which aims to deliver high-speed broadband to every citizen and business in Ireland. Its aims to achieve 100% coverage in three to five years of the start of large-scale rollout.
The Government has said it will achieve its targets through private commercial investment, with the State’s intervention making up the shortfall.
Three bidders — Eir, Siro, and Enet — entered the tendering process to be granted the contract to roll out the programme. A decision is expected this year.
The previous government allocated €275m for the first phase of the project in 2015, but would not commit to a final figure of how much it would invest until the tendering process is complete.
Mr Earley said the €275m allocated so far would have to be considerably higher — more than €1bn — if the plan was to be executed properly.
He said: “My fear is that there is expectation growing in the business community and those waiting in anticipation could be in for a rude awakening.
"You have to commend the Government for the NBP but if it becomes apparent that the costs are considerably higher than first anticipated, I fear the political will to carry it through may not be there.”
Mr Earley said he feared the “enormity of the challenge” was not resonating with stakeholders.
“It is a huge project,” he said.
“The private sector works in a domestic urban setting and that will be commercially viable. The same goes for 50 homes in an estate or warehouses.
"A return on investment for commercial operators can work in that environment but what happens when it comes to isolated houses in rural Ireland?
"There is clearly not a return on investment in such a situation. Then the State will have a decision to make on whether it will stick to the plan.”
© Irish Examiner Ltd. All rights reserved