Broadband Plan comes with risk

network

The Government’s National Broadband Plan comes with a very high price tag and while we agree with its intentions, it appears that the Fine Gael-led Government is biting more than it ought to be chewing.Given the acceleration of change in broadband service provision, in just a few short years from now, fibre may not need to be laid in every parish in the State. Mobile solutions, even availing of satellite technology such as that being used in harsh, remote areas such as Lapland in the Arctic Circle could be brought into play here.

In such cases, business and households pay for an installation charge which in some cases could run to over €1000 if higher speeds are required for a business.Eir previously attempted to sell broadband in rural areas but found that the demand was quite weak among many when the cost of installation came into discussions.One also has to ask why Eir and the ESB have passed on even being considered as tenders for the project in the first place?

The Department of Public Expenditure, in the guise of senior civil servant Robert Watt, believes that the private sector entity sponsoring the delivery of the project is not taking sufficient risk when compared to the Government, which will pump billions into the plan. Why should this be so?Going against the advice of a senior civil servant, all the more so when one hears Government Ministers so regularly citing the advice of Secretaries General and the Attorney General, must also be queried. Why has the Government proven so foolhardy in this instance?

Perhaps a few counties or a region ought to be trialled initially for the roll-out at a lower cost so that a ‘stress test’ can be performed on the efficacy of the laid fibre. Why not be more prudent? Why not adhere to Finance Minister Paschal Donohue’s ‘rainy day’ mantra when it comes to the State’s finances? Why are Fine Gael flying in the face of its long-professed ‘safety first’ fiscal stance?Could the ESB provide a more practical solution given that they already serve all the State’s households with electricity and also boast a strong track record of delivery; the regular power cuts of the 1980s now a welcome thing of the past.

Why couldn’t they do it? Sinn Féin and others have made this very valid point repeatedly over the past few weeks and months.If broadband technologies work well in the Nordic States without too much cost, then why are going down such a cash-laden path?The ESB took many years to electrify Rural Ireland, several decades after it opened its first power station. But such progress in those years was literally made in the dark. That does not apply in 2019 when it comes to broadband provision.

Much has yet to be debated and further facts are required before this project gets the go-ahead. We hope that common sense will prevail in this instance. Moral fibre amounts to more than mere optics. We need a solid diet of it now in Leinster House.

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