Friday 30 September 2016

I'm changing internet plan to ensure no one is left behind

Denis Naughten

Published 06/07/2016 | 02:30

This is our moment, our chance to open up new horizons and new possibilities for Irish businesses and families; to empower all our communities, urban and rural; and to chart a new course for our country in a world that is more connected than ever. (Stock picture)
This is our moment, our chance to open up new horizons and new possibilities for Irish businesses and families; to empower all our communities, urban and rural; and to chart a new course for our country in a world that is more connected than ever. (Stock picture)

Earlier this year, newspapers across Ireland sent out a call for people to share their memories of what has justifiably been called the greatest social revolution in Ireland: the rural electrification scheme.

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It would be hard to overestimate the extraordinary impact that rural electrification had on Irish society. Yesterday, I announced an important milestone in what I believe is a project that, for scale and significance, matches rural electrification.

This project has, at its heart, a single, clear goal: to deliver high-speed broadband to every citizen and premises in Ireland.

Access to secure, high-speed broadband is not a luxury. It is a fundamental necessity and essential to the social, economic and cultural wellbeing and prosperity of all our communities.

In order to deliver high-speed broadband to every home, school and business in Ireland, two ownership models were available: the commercial stimulus (or 'gap funding') model, or the full concession model.

Both required the private sector to finance, build and operate the network. Both would deliver the same network for 26 years.

A principal difference is that after 26 years, under the 'gap funding' model, ownership reverts to the full control of the commercial telecoms operator; whereas under the full concession approach, ownership reverts to the State.

The latter model would have resulted in a six-month delay at least in negotiating a contract and those without broadband cannot wait any longer.

The full concession approach had another serious consequence: the entire cost of the project would be placed on the Government's balance sheet, with implications of €500 to €600m for the available capital funding over the next five or six years.

It would have cost the State 50-70pc more than the gap funding model.

While we face other priorities in housing, climate and health, my view is that this additional cost could not be justified.

So, on my recommendation, the Government has selected the 'gap' commercial stimulus model as the optimum model for a network to be part-funded by the Exchequer under the procurement process.

As the minister responsible, I have to ensure no one is left behind in any part of this country.

That is why I have also announced my intention to change the high-speed broadband map to include up to 170,000 more premises in those areas where commercial telecoms investment has not materialised and for which the department does not have any concrete alternative investment plans from the sector.

It is this joint approach - a combination of investment by the telecoms sector, primarily in cities and towns across Ireland, and a State-led intervention, predominantly in rural areas, where there is no certainty that the telecoms sector will invest, that I believe has the potential to be yet another decisive turning point.

There is a dedicated email address set up to answer any of your questions. Get in touch at broadband@dcenr.gov.

This is our moment, our chance to open up new horizons and new possibilities for Irish businesses and families; to empower all our communities, urban and rural; and to chart a new course for our country in a world that is more connected than ever.

Denis Naughten is the Minister for Communications, Climate Action and Environment

Irish Independent

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