Communications Minister Dermot Ahern has unveiled a €25m investment programme to deliver broadband to small rural towns across Ireland over the next three years. The programme, aimed at bridging a potential urban/rural digital divide, will be run along the lines of the Group Water Scheme with the Government paying for 55pc of the cost of bringing broadband to towns of less than 1,500 people.
Known as the Group Broadband Scheme, the programme is aimed at communities pulling together and working with telecom and broadband companies in a variety of access technology fields, including copper, fibre, wireless and satellite, and creating a commercially viable solution.
Modelled on the Group Water Scheme, the €25m programme will empower local communities to draw up and implement their own broadband plans in partnership with broadband service providers.
The Government is to provide 55pc capital funding – the maximum allowable under EU rules – with half of the funding payable at the commercial launch of broadband services to local businesses and residents. The balance of funding will be allocated when the scheme reaches the minimum subscriber targets for the projects.
The first call for proposals from would-be applicants will be made on Monday 8 March. Additional calls will be made every six months.
Commenting on the investment, Minister Ahern said: “These new broadband services will reduce the peripherality of smaller and rural communities. They will lead to improved employment opportunities, a more favourable investment environment and make rural villages and hinterlands more economically sustainable.
“The scheme is open to all local community organisations and all entities capable of providing a broadband service. In selecting eligible projects, I have determined that projects which provide competitive retail pricing for broadband services to will be considered favourably.”
Ahern added: “This radical new initiative is about empowering communities to deliver their own infrastructure. The Government does not want a digital divide, especially an urban/rural divide.”
Ahern said that the characteristics of successful applicant Group Broadband Schemes will involve the local community, comprising of local community organisations, development groups or businesses taking a leading role in driving the Group Broadband Scheme project in partnership with a broadband internet service provider.
Schemes, he said, must be sustainable – technically and commercially viable on an ongoing basis after start-up support – and must be cost effective and exploit existing resources where available.
Ahern continued: “This is another key element of the Government’s Broadband Action Plan. For larger towns and cities we are building Metropolitan Area Networks. For towns of over 1,500 we are building Strategic Fibre Networks to link industry, colleges, hospitals and major residential areas.
“Now, for communities of less than 1,500 the Group Broadband Scheme will deliver broadband. There is no one-size-fits-all solution for broadband and I expect a mix of wireless, fibre, copper and satellite solutions will be supported by this Scheme.”
By John Kennedy