Stephen Cadogan: Bridging the broadband gap fast becoming a human right

Of all the commitments in the programme for a partnership government, rural dwellers will reserve the biggest pinch of salt for the promise to bring next generation broadband to every house and business in the country by 2020.

However, it might be more credible if the example of the UK government was followed, making a commitment last week to give every household the legal right to access high-speed broadband.

The British government is expected to enforce a minimum speed of 10 megabits per second (Mbits/sec) as an initial figure, with powers to direct Ofcom, the communications regulator in the UK, to review this over time.

The British government also wants entitlement to compensation for customers from internet companies for broadband outage, similar to the way water and gas and electricity companies are required to pay out if their supply fails.

The broadband plan was welcomed by the Confederation of British Industry, with a spokesman saying the digital revolution is transforming modern business, and ensuring that broadband reaches all corners of the country will breed a new generation of companies in an increasingly competitive environment.

Even if the UK government’s plans are pushed through, it could still take up to five or six years to bring in superfast fibre broadband, according to industry sources.

It puts the pressure on our government to deliver, or lose digital business and jobs across the border to Northern Ireland.

The continued procrastination, and the numerous false dawns associated with the provision of effective rural broadband can no longer be tolerated, she said, and the UK decision to make it legally binding to provide broadband needed to replicated in the Republic.

At least, the programme for a partnership government emphasises the need for the long-term thinking and the broad-based consensus at political and public level, necessary for tackling longer-term challenges, in which category it includes broadband, along with housing, climate change, pensions and funding for higher education and health.

The programme also says bridging the digital divide between rural and urban areas is one of the biggest challenges, and the government goes on to guarantee that 85% of premises in will have access to high speed broadband within two years, with 100% access as soon as possible, or within five years at most.

Those waiting for broadband should watch for the government working with councils to establish broadband taskforces to help facilitate local provision as a first step. 

After years of disappointment, rural dwellers won’t be holding their breath.


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