Labour launches its €2bn broadband plan

LABOUR pledged to boost Ireland’s economic recovery with plans for a privately funded €2 billion high-quality broadband system.

Party leader Eamon Gilmore compared Fianna Fáil’s failure to tackle broadband deficiency across the country to its handling of the banking crisis.

But Mr Gilmore also claimed that comments by fellow opposition party Fine Gael in recent days suggested that the party was willing to let Fianna Fáil back into government “by the side door”.

Launching the party’s second policy proposal for the election, Mr Gilmore said: “If anything could be remotely close to Fianna Fáil’s handling of the banks, it is their failure on broadband.”

Labour want to set up a new,privately operated company called NetCo, which would effectively drive the roll-out of a new fibre optic broadband network into homes.

It wants private companies or state-companies, such as ESB, to consider investing in the plan but no money would come directly from government spending.

The new connections would be 100 times faster than current broadband schemes and cost an average of €2,000 to put into homes.

The party intends encouraging private operators, such as Eircom, as well as international groups, to invest in the new broadband system, which would in turn benefit their own businesses.

Ireland’s 16-24 year-olds currently rank 26th out of 27 in the EU for regular internet use, the party warned, adding that the country had one of the worst records for broadband access.

But with current industry suggestions that the next generation of broadband could take up to five years to roll out, party communications spokeswoman Liz McManus could only say she hoped the project would succeed during the nextgovernment.

Industry sources had expressed support to get the project started, she said, and the sooner companies invested the better the return they would get with NetCo.

The party’s Munster MEP Alan Kelly said companies signing up as investors would make huge savings and help create jobs. Many start-up companies were being strangled by slow broadband access, said the party’s Tipperary north candidate.

“This is distracting from rural areas where many of these companies could be based. Many of them are working on web-based areas like online marketing and can work from anywhere,” Mr Kelly said.

Meanwhile, Mr Gilmore hit back at Fine Gael criticism of the party’s weekend jobs’ plan announcement, saying it was an “old-fashioned” view that a government should have no role in the economy.

He said that some choreography in recent days had shown that Fine Gael would let Fianna Fáil back into government through the side door.

Responding to the claim, Fine Gael director of elections, Phil Hogan TD, said his party would “not be entering into any agreement of any description with Fianna Fáil on any issues after the election”.

Mr Gilmore yesterday also brushed aside suggestions that sharp policy differences were emerging between his party and Fine Gael, particularly on the EU/IMF deal which might overshadow any future coalition government.

Labour’s Digital Ireland:

* Set up a new company, NetCo, which would be privately owned and extend the next generation of broadband.

* Costing €2 billion or €2,000 per home, with investors like Eircom and ESB encouraged to back the plan.

* Start the project and with “hope” complete within the lifetime of the next government.

* Early investors would see risk premiums paid for them and better returns.

* Develop a broadband rating system for every property sold or rented.

* Increase digital literacy of population, particularly the elderly, unemployed and less educated. People without proper internet use or access are excluded from reading newspapers, downloading music, paying motor tax and booking flights. Digital literacy training programmes would also increase online access to family and social services

* Instruct Commission for Communications Regulation to ensure internet suppliers provide regular data on speed.

* Boosting Ireland’s broadband capability will increase competitiveness in sectors like health, transport, energy and education

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