THE ESB is entering the broadband market with the roll-out of high-speed internet to more than 500,000 homes throughout rural Ireland.
Details emerged last night as a new bill was introduced in the Dail by Communications Minister Pat Rabbitte.
The move is designed to ease chronic difficulties in accessing high-speed broadband in many parts of the country.
It also puts in place the legal framework allowing the ESB to enter the telecommunications market in a boost for competition in the sector.
Minister Rabbitte said the bill was a positive step in accelerating the roll-out of high-speed broadband which has become a critical component of modern society
The ESB says its "Fibre to the Building" project will offer the highest broadband speeds available to Irish customers.
"We will roll out a 100pc fibre network that will connect directly into 500,000 homes, offering speeds in excess of 150Mb per second. These upload and download speeds are guaranteed because it is an end-to-end fibre network," said the ESB.
Sinn Fein spokesman Deputy Michael Colreavy welcomed the move but said it should have happened years ago.
"There are many daily functions that are now almost impossible to carry out without a proper broadband connection.
"There are many areas in Ireland, most of them rural, which still do not receive an adequate broadband connection.
"The lack of broadband or poor service levels is becoming a constraint in accessing services," he said.
He said Ireland's widely dispersed population could deter some providers from supplying broadband in rural Ireland and there was a very real fear that rural Ireland could be left behind.
"Hopefully the entry of the ESB into this area will bring about the upgrade of broadband services in rural areas," he said.
The plan is for a €400m super-past fibre network which will by strung across existing ESB poles and run directly to homes and businesses.
It will be available to be used by all internet providers operating in the Irish market.