State approves €500m for rural broadband

More than 1,000 towns and villages to have access to ‘Rolls-Royce’ connectivity

The Government has approved an investment of up to €500 million for a fibre-powered network which will be rolled out across the State starting next year.

The Government has approved an investment of up to €500 million for a fibre-powered network which will be rolled out across the State starting next year.

Sat, Apr 26, 2014, 01:00

Almost one million homes and businesses in rural Ireland are to be connected to high-speed broadband after the Government approved an investment of up to €500 million for a fibre-powered network which will be rolled out across the State starting next year.

The Government is setting aside funding to develop the infrastructure, which will give homes and businesses in more than 1,000 towns and villages access to high-speed connectivity for the first time. These rural towns and villages have already been identified as target areas for the high-speed connections. Once the connections are in place, private operators will be given access to the infrastructure and allowed offer multiple services.


Highly ambitious
Minister for Communications Pat Rabbitte yesterday compared the “highly ambitious” project to the rural electrification scheme which started in the Republic in the mid-1940s and finished in 1979.

He said it would end an “unacceptable divide” between urban and rural dwellers.

He told The Irish Times that the State’s investment was given the green light by Cabinet last week. While he accepted the proposals will cost significantly more than the €125 million originally envisaged under the National Broadband Plan, he said the fourfold increase was needed to ensure the roll-out complied with EU guidelines.

Mr Rabbitte said as the State is seeking to “directly intervene” in a competitive market to provide broadband, it had to prove to the European Commission it was filling a gap that could not be catered for by the private sector, and ensuring all arrangements were “future-proofed”.

The Minister declined to put an exact time frame on when the rollout would be completed, but indicated it would take at least three years.


‘Rolls-Royce option’
He said that he was “not hung up” on what broadband speeds the new infrastructure would offer, but stressed that his department had gone for “the Rolls-Royce option” to ensure that all speeds coming out of the network would be adequate to meet consumers’ needs, today and into the future.

“Urban Ireland has as good a level of connectivity as anywhere in Europe, but there are many parts of rural Ireland where there is only a basic service and that is not acceptable. People in rural areas are as entitled to broadband as anyone else,” Mr Rabbitte said.

A detailed mapping of the areas which do not have adequate coverage is already under way and an implementation strategy will be published later this year. A public consultation will take place once the strategy is published.