Time to rethink National Broadband Plan
Sir, – Given the imminence of a Cabinet decision regarding the National Broadband Plan, I have some concerns that need consideration.
Instead of awarding a single contract for the entire country to one firm, the plan could be broken into regional plans which would be tendered for separately. This would spread risks across several suppliers, speed up delivery and create a much more competitive bidding process leading to a substantial saving to taxpayers.
If proceeding with a single tenderer, what undertakings are being secured to ensure that the underlying business will not be progressively drained of cash, loaded with debt and flipped multiple times?
If the plan costs the State €3 billion and the service secures a 30 per cent uptake among its half million prospective customers, the State’s expenditure per subscriber would be €20,000, equivalent to almost €2,000 a year, given that most costs would be front-loaded. This is additional to service charges of about €500 a year payable by subscribers.
Although not perfect, mainly due to poor latency, satellite broadband is readily available with acceptable speeds in many rural areas. The front-end cost per subscriber would be a mere €100. Even if the State offered every household a free dish and acquired a low-orbit satellite, the total cost would be well under €300 million, a tenth of the proposed expenditure. Furthermore, this strategy keeps options open to avail over the coming 25 years of major technological advances in internet delivery via mobile and fibre, power line, satellite (eg Starlink), drones, etc.
Given that a general election is in the offering, there is a danger that, as in the case of the new national children’s hospital, politicians may feel obliged to selectively honour promises at any cost and that the National Broadband Plan will fall into this category.
To allay this fear, the Government should publish complete results of independent “value for money” studies and, if not available, defer an investment decision until they are. – Yours, etc,