Uproar and disapproval at delay in broadband roll-out

Department of Communications forced to announce that the project would be delayed

Doing business in certain parts of the State is almost impossible, so poor are the lines of communication. That has been the driving force behind an ambitious plan to roll out high-speed broadband across the Republic.

However, the Department of Communications was forced to concede this week that the project would be delayed.

The news has been greeted with a chorus of disapproval. The Irish Farmers' Association condemned the "unacceptable delay", with spokesman Thomas Cooney describing the decision as "a backward step that will undermine the enterprise potential of rural Ireland".

Ibec referred to obstacles requiring a more cohesive approach by local authorities and State agencies.

And Eir, formerly Eircom, helpfully noted it would "continue to assist the Government to ensure that the National Broadband Plan is implemented".

What it forgot to mention is that it is a commercial decision by that company which has effectively forced the delay to the existing government proposal.

Put simply, under EU rules, the Government cannot invest in a service that could be provided by the private sector. When it drew up its broadband plan, the State did so on the basis of the business plans of existing providers, including Eir, and the gaps left in coverage. It produced a map indicating that 757,000 homes and businesses in rural Ireland would remain unconnected without State-subsidised broadband. The target was to have all of them covered by 2020.

However, even as the outgoing Government prepared to seek tenders on that basis, Eir said it could now cover 300,000 of the affected properties.

That undermined the plan put forward by Minister for Communications Alex White (inset), leading inevitably to this week's announcement.

The 775,000 people looking to live and work in rural areas would be better served by less faux outrage and more constructive engagement on all sides.