Alex White vows to bring fast broadband to rural areas

State must ‘intervene where the market has failed,’ says Minister for Communications

Minister for Communications Alex  White says he will implement the €550m plan outlined by Mr Rabbitte earlier this year. Photograph: Alan Betson / The Irish Times

Minister for Communications Alex White says he will implement the €550m plan outlined by Mr Rabbitte earlier this year. Photograph: Alan Betson / The Irish Times

 

Minister for Communications Alex White has identified increasing fast broadband to rural Ireland as his first and immediate priority in his new office.

Speaking to The Irish Times yesterday, Mr White said that, since he became Minister, the disparity in broadband quality and availability between the major urban centres and rural Ireland was an issue that had consistently been raised with him.

“Perhaps it is a function of being a Dublin minister or living in Dublin but travelling around the country and talking to people in small business, the differential service and differential quality of broadband around the country is pretty clear and it has to be conclusively addressed.”

Mr White said the private sector was doing some great work to address this but there were considerable parts of the country where the private sector would not go and it was the duty of the State to intervene.

“If the State has any role to play in a modern economy it is to intervene where the market has failed or where the market won’t go.”

Mr White is the fifth successive minister for communications to promise a plan that will result in close to 100 per cent broadband penetration among the State’s population at speeds that compare with the most progressive economies in the world. Fianna Fáil ministers Dermot Ahern and Noel Dempsey, Green minister Eamon Ryan, and Labour minister Pat Rabbitte all unveiled plans for the nationwide rollout of fast broadband but none of the plans came to fruition.

Asked how he would differ from his predecessors in this regard, Mr White said he would work not only to assert these things to the public but he would also present the actual timelines and targets in the most transparent way.

“A lot of individuals around the country feel a sense of grievance that they are, as it were, excluded or are poorly covered.”

Mr White said he would implement the €550 million plan outlined by Mr Rabbitte earlier this year to bring broadband to 1,000 towns and villages. He accepted that it would take time to deliver but said that work on it would be prioritised.

The plan envisages a mapping exercise to identify all the towns, villages and townlands excluded at present. Once that was competed, a public consultation would begin next year and tenders would then be invited for the build-out of this service. “I would love to say it could be done in a period of weeks or months but it will take a period of years, maybe a very small period of years.”

He said people would be able to look at the mapping and all other stages on the department’s website to follow the progress of the plan.

Mr White was speaking after a showcase at a secondary school in Dublin’s south inner city which showed how super-fast 100mbps connections can be used to improve outcomes in education.

Pioneering school

Presentation Secondary School

According to principal Gwen Brennan, that collaboration with the Digital Hub initiative, also in the Liberties, has transformed the school with its highest percentage of students going on to third-level courses.

One of the great innovations was a partnership with Coláiste Bhríde in Clondalkin. Four students from Warrenmount wanted to do honours maths for the Leaving Cert and took the Coláiste Bhríde higher maths course through video link, using social media technology, email and even fax for homework assignments and notes.