Fintan O'Toole: The big hold up for rural broadband is ideology
Using the 1950s State electricity model would be a sin against the new orthodoxy
What we’ve ended up with after 16 years is a tendering process in which there is just a single bidder which has no experience at all of building this kind of infrastructure. Photograph: Karl Hussey/Fennell Photography
Fans of the Game of Thrones novels will understand my plight. They have been waiting year after year since 2011 for George RR Martin to publish the next volume of the saga, which is apparently to be called The Winds of Winter. But their frustration is as nothing compared to mine. I’ve been waiting since 1999 for the former Fianna Fáil minister Mary O’Rourke to publish her book on the privatisation of the State’s telecommunications company, Telecom Éireann. It would be all the more fascinating to read it right now as the debacle of the National Broadband Plan continues to unfold. The infrastructure company SSE, a crucial part of the only consortium still in the competition to bring broadband to 542,000 homes and businesses in rural Ireland, has pulled out of the process.
It was in April 1999 that Mary O’Rourke, then minister for public enterprise, told the Seanad: “Despite the fact that the taoiseach said we must not write books about our time in government, I intend to write a book about Telecom. I am writing about Telecom at the moment while the subject is fresh in my mind. In order for my job to be successful, it would not be wise for me to speak on certain matters.” The hint was that her book would eventually reveal all the dramatic secrets behind one of the greatest triumphs of Irish history, the flogging off of the public utility that could have actually implemented a national broadband plan.