Monday 22 December 2014

Rural areas 'abandoned' in broadband plan

Published 09/08/2014 | 02:30

Communications Minister Alex White
Communications Minister Alex White

Rural organisations have criticised the government's decision not to renew the National Broadband Scheme, which will lead to higher monthly bills for 45,000 rural broadband customers.

"There should have been an extension until the government came to a conclusion about what they wanted to do next in these areas and with this group of people," said Seamus Boland, chief executive of Irish Rural Link, which has 25,000 members. Others have criticised the move as short-sighted.

"Farmers are being asked to file more and more official documentation exclusively online," said Billy Gray of the Irish Cattle and Sheep Farmers Association which has 10,000 members. "Many have no other way of submitting certain applications under new CAP amendments other than through online methods."

The end of the National Broadband Scheme, which saw the government pay €80m in subsidies to 3 Ireland to provide wireless broadband access to the country's worst coverage blackspots, means that broadband bills are to rise by up to €180 per year for 45,000 rural subscribers.

A spokesman for 3 Ireland said that the operator had lost money on running the National Broadband Scheme and now needed to raise prices to normal commercial levels.

He also said that four in five of 3 Ireland's customers under the National Broadband Scheme are currently within the new lower data limits set for its entry-tier product and will not immediately need to graduate onto the higher cost plan. However, this rationale was rejected by some campaigners, who say data usage is increasing by the month.

"Regional and rural Ireland has now been abandoned and is losing out on investment and business," said Fianna Fail's spokesman on Communications, Michael Moynihan.

Monopoly

While critics charge the government with leaving one operator in a monopoly situation, a spokesman for Communications Minister Alex White said that it is up to the telecoms regulator Comreg to safeguard the behaviour of 3 Ireland in rural broadband areas.

However, a spokesman for Comreg said it had no responsibility for individual blackspot areas covered by the National Broadband Scheme.

"Comreg has no role in this matter at present as the original National Broadband Scheme tender was run by the Department of Communications," said a spokesman for the regulator. "We do not regulate retail prices."

Irish Independent

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