Strong indications that Ireland’s Government is about to cross the digital Rubicon.
Adopting a ‘damned if you do, damned if you don’t’ approach, the Government of Ireland is to stoically press ahead with the controversial National Broadband Plan (NBP).
Citing well-placed sources, The Irish Times today (26 April) reported that the Cabinet is likely to sign off on the plan to provide high-speed broadband to 542,000 rural premises the week after next (between 6 and 12 May).
It is understood that the announcement will be followed by a major publicity drive, with rural-based Ministers spearheading the messaging.
The controversial plan, which began life back in 2012, has been beset by setback after setback as well as a long, drawn-out procurement process resulting in only one contender, National Broadband Ireland, and a Minister for Communications resigning.
Either way, without the intervention of the NBP, large tracts of rural Ireland and about 1m people will be left behind, unable to partake in the digital economy and missing out on vital employment and other socioeconomic opportunities such as digital healthcare and education.
Fears of a backlash
Senior Government figures fear a potential backlash over the €3bn price tag associated with the NBP but, as elections approach, they also fear the ramifications from rural Ireland if they do nothing to resolve the broadband blight.
What we know so far is that the €3bn plan is likely to be spread out over 25 years and that the kind of speeds that are being proposed have increased from the initial 30Mbps to 150Mbps.
That means fibre will have to be the majority of the new network, with wireless technologies such as 5G or fixed wireless networks carrying the slack in harder-to-reach areas. A senior telecoms industry source said that wireless solutions will have to feature in those areas; otherwise, reaching them would swallow up a large chunk of cash and take time to deliver.
The real hurdle that could stymie the entire NBP is whether the winning contender will own the entire network after the 25-year roll-out or whether it will remain an asset that belongs to the State. If the asset ends up in the hands of a private entity, then the State will need to adequately explain to the taxpayers why this will be the case.
Optics, not just fibre optics, are everything.