Q&A: Why spend €500m on broadband?

All you need to know about the Government’s plan to bring fibre-powered highspeed broadband to nearly one million homes and businesses


What’s this all about?
The Government announced an investment package of up to €500 million to build a fibre-powered infrastructure which will give nearly one million homes and businesses, in more than 1,000 towns and villages throughout Ireland, access to highspeed broadband for the first time.

Where’s the money coming from?
Officials at the Department of Communications have convinced their counterparts at the Department of Finance to fund the project, and they also hope to source money from the European Investment Band and the Strategic Investment Fund. The scheme will cost a lot more than the €125 million initially ear-marked for rural broadband under a national plan, but Minister for Communications Pat Rabbitte said the higher level of investment was needed to comply with European guidelines.

What guidelines are these?
As the State is seeking to “directly intervene” to provide broadband in an area occupied by private enterprise, it first had to prove to the European Commission it was filling a gap that could not be provided by the private sector. Then it had to prove the plans were properly in place and would be sustainable in the long-term.

How soon will people see results?
Mr Rabbitte declined to put an exact timeframe on when the roll-out will be completed but indicated it would be at least three years.

Who will benefit?
More than 1,000 rural towns and villages have been identified as target areas for the fibre-based connections, and once they are in place the plan is to allow private operators to offer multiple services off the networks.

Do we know which towns?
The Minister was reluctant to give names because the list is a work in progress. The Government also wants to avoid the risk of upsetting people in towns that are not on the list because private companies are in the process of bringing highspeed broadband to them already.

Is the State building the infrastructure and leasing space to private companies?
Yes and no. Mr Rabbitte said yesterday that he was “agnostic” over who would actually own the network once it was completed. What is likely to happen is the network will be given to private operators as part of an incentive scheme to ensure they deliver adequate services to all areas.

How fast will it be?
The Minister said he was “not hung up” on what speeds the new infrastructure would be able to offer but he promised people they could look forward to “the Rolls Royce option”. Fibre-powered broadband will mean companies doing business in rural areas should be able to offer speeds of 100MB per second. Similar speeds are available in urban areas. The infrastructure will also be capable of being ramped up to offer faster speeds as the market matures.

What happens next?
A detailed mapping of the areas that do not have adequate coverage is underway and an implementation strategy will be published later this year. A public consultation will take place once the strategy is published.

Is anything else happening?
A new joint venture is being set up by the ESB and Vodafone, with the ESB’s poles and pylons to be used to carry highspeed broadband into 450,000 homes in areas where it is currently unavailable. Details of the new partnership will be ironed out in the next few weeks after which a new company will be established.