Broadband promise for rural Ireland

The Government has promised to deliver high-speed broadband to 700,000 homes expected to be forsaken by private operators over the coming years.

According to the Government, it would ensure every home, business, and school in the country would eventually access high-speed broadband as part of plans that are “akin to rural electrification” in the 1950s.

In the meantime, some homes in rural areas may have to wait until 2020 to access the super-speed broadband, Communications Minister Alex White conceded.

He yesterday launched a broadband map which showed areas that will receive high-speed broadband from commercial operators.

It is envisaged that 1.6m premises would be covered by the end of 2016.

State-subsidised broadband will be provided to the remaining 700,000 homes and businesses in areas not covered by private business. Those areas have also been identified in the broadband map.

The work will be put out to tender next year and providers decided the following year, he said. “It’s no exaggeration to compare it to something like rural electrification,” he said.

It is the second time this year the Coalition announced major plans to roll out broadband into rural blackspots. Former minister Pat Rabbitte announced in April — just weeks before the local elections — that 1,100 villages would get fibre-optic cabling and high-speed internet connectivity in a €510m plan.

Citing commercial reasons, Mr White yesterday declined to disclose how much the state-subsidised broadband proposal would cost to ensure no premises would be left behind.

But he said there was “great commercial interest” and “competitive tension” in the broadband and telecom sectors and signalled such competition could ultimately help reduce the cost to the State.

“I don’t see why people in rural areas end up having to pay more money for their broadband compared to what the rest of us do,” the Labour minister said.

The distance to be covered by the State in the rollout of broadband is equivalent to 100,000km of road network, it was suggested.

The Government map on www.broadband.gov.ie shows where and when high-speed broadband will be available.

State-funded networks must be capable of delivering high-quality, high-speed broadband of at least 30 megabits per second under the plan. Opposition groups gave the plans a cautious welcome and said blackspots with slow broadband speeds must be prioritised.

Employers’ body Ibec said co-operation between providers, government, local authorities, and state agencies was crucial to help to speed up the process.

Ibec’s telecom group pointed out over a quarter of Irish people live in remote rural regions or villages with fewer than 50 homes, where more infrastructure such as masts and fibre were needed.

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