'Nobody left behind' as rural broadband scheme to be increased by 170,000 homes
The state-subsidised National Broadband Plan is to to be expanded to over 900,000 rural homes and businesses, according to the government.
In a new twist to the government's pledged €1bn rural broadband rollout, 'up to' 170,000 additional homes and businesses will now qualify for taxpayer-funded fibre broadband into their homes.
The rollout is due to start in the summer of 2017 and is expected to take up to five years to complete.
Communications Minister Denis Naughten said that it had "emerged" that previously considered high speed broadband areas actually had a high number of houses with broadband connections lower than 30Mbs, the standard set by the government for future connectivity.
"I have a responsibility however to ensure that nobody is left behind," he said.
“For this reason, my Department has been closely monitoring the rollout of services by the commercial telecoms sector in the so-called blue areas on the Hhigh speed broadband map."
As a result of this monitoring and dialogue with industry, he said, the government has discovered that there are up to 170,000 premises of the 1.6m premises thought to be without need for state intervention. Mr Naughten said that work "was ongoing" in the Department to identify the exact number and location of premises involved.
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The government also said today that it has chosen to privatise the rural network once the initial 25-year state contract is over. The move means that whoever wins the upcoming tender to serve high speed broadband to rural premises will also get to keep the state-funded network.
Communications Minister Denis Naughten said that the privatised model was being pursued as it would lower the cost of the broadband rollout. He also said it would prevent further delays in signing contracts, which have already seen setbacks in the last 12 months.
Mr Naughten said that his Department had commissioned "detailed costings down to every individual home" in the affected poor broadband areas.
Opting for a private-owned network would save up to 50pc in costs for the government, he said.
“While I recognise the potential long-term value in the State owning any network that is built, I am advised that under a [state ownership] model, the entire cost of the project would be placed on the Government’s balance sheet, with serious implications for the available capital funding over the next five to six years," he said.
"Given that both models will deliver the same services and be governed by an almost identical contract, I cannot justify reducing the amount of money available to Government for other critical priorities such as climate change, housing and health over the next six years."
Mr Naughten also said that he has already "raised" the question of a Universal Service Obligation (USO) for high speed broadband "at EU level". This would mean that every home has a right to high speed broadband by law.
He said that he is "in discussion" with ComReg about a form of USO in areas "where commercial providers have already built high speed broadband networks, but where issues might arise with new-builds".