Non-city dwellers win big in fibre arms race
'It's a disgrace, Joe. I'm sitting here in central Dublin on my pathetic 150Mbs broadband service. When are they upgrading us to the 1,000Mbs speeds that the fat cats in Cavan and Athlone and Portlaoise have? How long do we have to suffer this two-tier broadband society?"
It may seem an unlikely complaint. But it is a quirk of the regional fibre broadband arms race that a million people in 50 towns outside Dublin and Cork will soon have access to far faster broadband than their city cousins.
Make no mistake about it: the fibre-to-the-home broadband that will be launched to 500,000 homes and businesses around the country over the coming months and years will make our present city connections look quaint.
There'll even be competition. Eircom is dead set on going toe-to-toe with the ESB-Vodafone joint venture's fibre launches in the same 50 towns. That means a choice of so-called 'gigabit' connections, the Holy Grail of strategic broadband planning in the globe's top internet countries.
And there's serious investment, too. ESB-Vodafone (which doesn't have a trading name yet) is spending €450m. Eircom is spending its own €400m. And that's before the Government's (entirely separate) €500m National Broadband Plan, a pledge to connect every rural household to fibre broadband by 2020.
That's a lot of money on a lot of fibre broadband over the next couple of years. And it's without counting a separate €600m investment plan to upgrade mobile networks to 4G.
There's no let-up. ESB-Vodafone is talking about a further 300 towns and villages for the fibre service, work that could begin next year. Ironically, this could leave the Government with a strategic headache.
If an additional 300 towns and villages are being considered in ESB-Vodafone's fibre plans, will those villages still be included in the state-subsidised National Broadband Plan rollout?
The Government's 30Mbs rural broadband is only for areas not included in private operators' plans. One way or the other, residents outside cities look set to benefit.