Cautious welcome for Alex White’s rural broadband roll-out

Delays in implementing broadband strategy compared to ‘draining the Shannon’

There have been so many announcements in the past about rural broadband that Séamus Boland, chief executive of Irish Rural Link compared it to the digital equivalent of draining the Shannon.

Boland gave a cautious welcome to the latest announcement from Minister for Communications Alex White that the entire country will have high-speed broadband by 2020.

Boland said the announcement was the first by a government to acknowledge that broadband in most rural areas was “rubbish”.

“They are now committed, at least in principle, to intervening. We could never get previous ministers to say that.”


He believed there were 10,000 jobs “going abegging” every year because of the absence of rural broadband, and even businesses that did have it were falling behind urban counterparts because of uncompetitive speeds.

The Government announcement was welcomed by the Telecommunications and Internet Federation (TIF) section of the employers’ group, IBEC.

TIF director Torlach Denihan said the commercial sector had already doubled the number of premises in the State with high-speed broadband in the past two years. But he warned that obstacles and delays in the planning system remained.

Irish Farmers' Association (IFA) director of organisation James Kelly described the digital divide between rural and urban areas as vast. There was now, he said, a "golden opportunity to create a level playing pitch around national broadband infrastructure that will ultimately lead to job creation and much needed investment in rural areas".

Fine Gael TD Michelle Mulherin urged rural dwellers to get involved in the consultation period which starts in the new year.

"People in rural Ireland deserve to have the same access to information, culture, ideas, social interaction and opportunity as those in our towns and cities," she said.

Green Party communications spokesman Ossian Smyth warned that the Government may have "missed the opportunity" to include the €500 million rural broadband plan in European Commission president Jean-Claude Juncker's €300 billion economic stimulus package to be unveiled this week.

A decade of broadband promises confounded by 757,000 homes

Successive ministers for communications have promised to make rural broadband a priority, with the ultimate goal being 100 per cent coverage of the country.

All have failed to a greater or lesser extent.

The pledges are confounded by the 757,000 or so households that are still not covered.

Broadband was introduced commercially in Ireland in 2002. The first minister for communications to promise broadband roll-out was Dermot Ahern in 2004.

His successor Noel Dempsey promised broadband would be available nationwide by 2010.

Then it was the turn of Green Party minister Eamon Ryan who was evangelical about broadband. He said every property in the State would be able to avail of internet broadband by 2012.

A change of government in February 2011 led to the same old problems.

In August 2012 Pat Rabbitte outlined a national broadband plan which would see investment of €512 million from the State with a goal that every home would have a minimum of 30 Mbps available.

His successor Alex White – on taking over in September of this year – promised he would make rural broadband his greatest priority.

He now states that every home in the country will have high-speed broadband by 2020 – 16 years after the prospect of it was first mooted.

Ronan McGreevy

Ronan McGreevy

Ronan McGreevy is a news reporter with The Irish Times