Rural group claims far cheaper broadband alternative

Scepticism greets Rispa proposal based on upfront State funding of €900m

The Rispa proposal rests on using a mixture of fixed wireless access technologies, alongside the extension of a fibre network into selected rural areas. Photograph: Michael Smith/Getty

The Rispa proposal rests on using a mixture of fixed wireless access technologies, alongside the extension of a fibre network into selected rural areas. Photograph: Michael Smith/Getty

 

An umbrella group of small rural broadband providers has said it can meet the objectives of the National Broadband Plan (NBP) for an up-front commitment from the State of just more than €900 million.

The Regional Internet Service Providers’ Association (Rispa) says it can provide broadband for a subsidy of €402 million, if a State-backed loan scheme was also made available to internet service providers to the value of roughly €500 million, to be repaid over five years.

The Rispa proposal rests on using a mixture of fixed wireless access technologies, alongside the extension of a fibre network into selected rural areas, which Rispa says are currently underserved. This compares to the fibre to the home approach favoured by the National Broadband Plan.

It also assumes that Eir will connect 150,000 of the 542,000 homes in the NBP intervention area commercially, which the telco has said it would be able to do . It also assumes that a further 125,000 homes would be covered by wireless technologies commercially or already are customers of wireless companies. The remaining 267,000 households are those which would be targeted by Rispa .

In an 18-page technical submission passed to the Oireachtas Communications Committee in recent days, Rispa criticised the structure of the NBP, saying it forced a narrow frame on the process and effectively ruled out some technologies being chosen for the process.

‘Narrow scope’

“Whether by accident or design, the NBP’s restrictions meant that the procurement process became almost immediately focused on evaluating a single option as a means of fulfilling the tender’s objectives,” the submission argues.

“Furthermore, the narrow scope of the NBP also excluded the possibility of more cost-effective policy interventions, such as the implementation of practical measures to assist regional ISPs whose core business has been addressing Ireland’s rural connectivity gap.”

Rispa also claims its plan would not put other capital projects at risk of cancellation. Rispa has been invited to come before the Oireachtas communications committee.

Industry sources expressed scepticism about some technical aspects of the plan, saying it would force the Government to break promises about delivery of fibre to every home in the intervention area.

Clawback mechanism

The Department of Communications said the Rispa plan did not appear to meet any of the red lines the Government has set down. These include high-speed broadband being provided to 100 per cent of premises and strong protections to the State, including clawback mechanisms for excess profits.

A spokeswoman for the department said “No formal submission has been made to the department, however the options set out in the document have been considered by the department previously and ruled out.”

The spokeswoman rejected the suggestion that certain options had been ruled out by the process design. “The department has had extensive engagement with Irish operators as part of the consultation process to design the NBP, and it was open to all operators to apply as bidders to the procurement process.”

A Government source was extremely critical of the Rispa plan, saying the group “represents wireless operators whose customers are likely to get a better service under the NBP”.

“It is no surprise they have come forward with ideas which have already been ruled out, that they have not fully costed and are untested.”