€65m broadband rollout commences today

10 Feb 2003

The much-revised national broadband rollout plan is to officially commence today, involving some €65m investment in creating broadband loops around 19 key towns earmarked for development and some 30,000 miles of fibre-optic cabling.

The €65m plan is to be unveiled today by the Minister for Communications, Marine and Natural Resources, Dermot Ahern TD, at a ceremony at the National Software Centre in Cork.

Originally unveiled about a year ago, the original National Broadband Plan would have involved some €200m investment and included 67 towns. However, the dawn of harsh economic realities prompted a re-scaling of the plans to include 19 key towns in the first phase, with the remaining 48 towns to be included over the next three to four years.

The current €65m investment is understood to be 90pc funded by the Government and 10pc by the European Union. Local authorities will maintain ownership of the ducts and channels that will circle and link the key towns and private contractors have already begun pitching for the business of laying the infrastructure. The networks circling the towns will be metropolitan area networks (MANs) into which local businesses and overseas investment firms can connect, thereby providing stimulus for economic development of each town.

The aim, by laying down the infrastructure, is also to encourage telecom companies to enter into regions that they otherwise would have seen as unviable – a process described by Department of Communications as “demand aggregation”.

The largest MAN rollout is expected to take place in Cork, with the investment of some €11m in a ring around the city.

Cutbacks of some 9pc in the budget for the Department of Communications, Marine and Natural Resources by Finance Minister Charlie McCreevy TD prompted fears that the rollout of infrastructure to the remaining 48 towns might fall from the agenda, which were dismissed by a Communications Department spokesman who emphasised that “the overall strategy is still in place”.

By John Kennedy