Most adults think Ireland should go ahead with its National Broadband Plan

3 Apr 20191.02k Views

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Research suggests there would likely be a backlash if the cost of the National Broadband Plan approaches €3bn.

The majority of the Irish public are in favour of the National Broadband Plan (NBP) going ahead, but cost is a key consideration.

While one in five believe the Government of Ireland should proceed at any cost to deliver 150Mbps connectivity to people in the 542,000 premises that require intervention, one in six think it should put the money somewhere else.

‘Fibre will always be the backbone of the high-tech, digital economy which Ireland aspires to be. As such, the Government must proceed with this vital piece of infrastructure immediately as the country has waited long enough’
– DARAGH CASSIDY

The Red C survey of more than 1,000 adults on behalf of consumer price comparison site Bonkers.ie suggests there is likely to be a political backlash if the cost approaches €3bn.

On Monday (1 April), Siliconrepublic.com called on the Government and Communications Minister Richard Bruton, TD, to rip the Band-Aid and come clean on the cost and roll-out timetable of the NBP.

This came after the secretary general of the Department of Communications, Mark Griffin, told the Public Accounts Committee that the NBP is likely to cost multiples of the initial €500m estimate. He also revealed that the basic speeds have moved from the original 30Mbps to a very generous 150Mbps for every household and business in the 542,000-premises-strong intervention area.

The same day, it emerged that the scheme – which has been dogged by delays since 2012 – is expected to be brought before Cabinet by Minister Bruton before the end of April. Bruton said that despite reports claiming the cost of the NBP has risen to €3bn – multiples of the €500m and €1bn figures originally estimated – no final figure has been set.

A tough pill to swallow, but necessary medicine for digital Ireland

Bruton told RTÉ’s Today with Seán O’Rourke show on Monday that the scheme was going to be costly and the Government had to decide whether the investment was worthwhile.

The survey by Bonkers.ie revealed that there was 66pc support for the plan, higher in areas outside of Dublin, which shows 62pc.

Only 19pc of people think the Government should proceed at any cost while 17pc feel it should not proceed with the plan at all, and instead direct resources elsewhere. 18pc feel the Government should only proceed if the cost can come in below €1.5bn, a figure that may be impossible to meet.

“The results show the public is divided almost evenly on whether to proceed with the National Development Plan at all costs or whether not to proceed at all,” said Bonkers.ie head of communications, Daragh Cassidy.

“However, a clear majority do want to see the plan delivered but this is dependent on cost, which is hardly surprising after the debacle that has been the National Children’s Hospital. Quite simply, the public doesn’t want to see another major infrastructure project spiral wildly out of control.”

An interesting perspective to emerge from the survey is that most people do not believe that 5G by itself is enough to sort out the connectivity woes of rural Ireland, and that fibre remains integral.

“5G technology will still have limitations with regards to range and distance,” Cassidy said. “Also, 5G technology requires masts on base stations countrywide to transmit its signal, and these base stations will need fibre. So, in order to work properly, 5G needs fibre – but fibre doesn’t need 5G.

“Fibre will always be the backbone of the high-tech, digital economy which Ireland aspires to be. As such, the Government must proceed with this vital piece of infrastructure immediately as the country has waited long enough.

“Looking at the research, the Government is likely to receive some political backlash if the cost approaches €3bn or more. However, if the Government is upfront with the public on costs and timelines from the start so that everyone is clear on how and when the plan will be delivered, and its final cost, the political fallout can be lessened.”

John Kennedy is an award-winning technology journalist who served as editor of Siliconrepublic.com for 17 years.

editorial@siliconrepublic.com