Greens make ‘universal broadband’ a key provision of Govt deal

12 Oct 2009

Broadband to every home in Ireland by 2012 and 100Mbps broadband to every school in the country by 2010 are understood to be among the key conditions for staying in Government voted on by members of the Green party at the weekend.

The current administration was saved from the spectre of a snap election when the Greens voted to remain in the current Government and back the rollout of the National Asset Management Agency (NAMA).

The latter part of that vote was secured following a commitment in the Greens’ new Programme for Government that the banks will have a statutory obligation to make up any shortfall that may arise when NAMA is wound up in 10 years’ time.

Provisions of the Programme for Government

The programme includes key provisions, such as no third-level fees, the abolition of PRSI ceiling and reduction of income levy, the creation of more teaching posts, vouched expenses for politicians, fast tracking the DART interconnector and Metro North to be completed by 2016, and moving the Abbey Theatre to the GPO by 2016.

Included in the key provisions and not listed as mere pet projects were the objectives of delivering 100Mbps broadband to all secondary-level schools by 2010 and making broadband available to every house by 2012.

Ireland’s broadband infrastructure, particularly in rural areas, is behind that of most developed economies and this seriously undermines claims of Ireland being a “Smart Economy.”

Ireland’s rank regarding broadband quality

A global survey conducted on behalf of Cisco by a team of MBA students from the Saïd Business School at the University of Oxford and the University of Oviedo’s Economics Department has found Ireland ranked near the bottom of a list of 40 countries worldwide in terms of broadband quality.

Most people in Ireland are using services of much less than 3Mbps speed, compared to countries like France, where services as high as 42Mbps are popular, and the UK, where Virgin offers speeds of 50Mbps and will soon offer speeds of 200Mbps.

If the Greens are serious about their agenda of universal broadband for every home and citizen, then efforts to install this technology must be matched by a dedication to ensuring the quality of connections are taken into account.

Ireland is one of the few countries in the world today that doesn’t actually have a strategic plan for the future of its communications infrastructure.

Our nearest neighbour, the UK, has a Digital Britain strategy to provide ultra-fast communications to every home. To achieve this, it is putting a 50pc levy on all copper lines to raise the money to invest in infrastructure.

Ireland lacks communications plan

Australia is raising AUS$5 billion to completely fibre up the continent. US President Barack Obama’s first act when he came into office was to establish a technology committee to use communications to fuel recovery. France has the France Numerique 2012 plan to make the country more competitive.

Ireland has no plan.

For the Greens’ gamble to be taken seriously along with all the other provisions in the Programme for Government, a costed plan with deadlines and deliverables must be written as soon as possible.

Communications Minister Eamon Ryan TD has a major opportunity on his hands to not only satisfy his parties’ principled stand this past weekend, but provide an invaluable service to the people and the nation of Ireland; one that would echo through the years in new jobs and new opportunities in every town and city in the land.

By John Kennedy

Photo: Ireland’s broadband infrastructure, particularly in rural areas, is behind that of most developed economies.

John Kennedy is a journalist who served as editor of Silicon Republic for 17 years