Rural broadband now an 'emergency' issue, warn campaigners

Nationwide roll-out of high-speed network should be non-negotiable, says ICMSA

(stock image)
(stock image)
Claire Fox

Claire Fox

The government needs to hold an emergency Cabinet meeting to prove to the people of rural Ireland that it is serious about supplying broadband nationwide, Irish Rural Link CEO Seamus Boland has urged.

This comes following a report last week by the European Court of Auditors that predicted that it is "highly unlikely" that the €275m set aside by the Government to supply broadband to every home in Ireland will be enough.

At present, Enet is the only bidder left in the process that should result in 540,000 premises being connected to the National Broadband Plan, following Eir's withdrawal from the tender in January.

Mr Boland told the Farming Independent that an emergency Cabinet meeting should have been held when companies started dropping out of the tender process. He said it is now time for the Government to hold such a meeting and prove to the people of rural Ireland that they're not out of touch with the issue.

"Red lights should have been flashing for the Government when companies started pulling out of the tender process. An emergency Cabinet meeting now has to be held as there are too many negative implications on rural Ireland if the plan isn't rolled out.

"Until we get that sense of urgency from the Government, it just looks like they've lost touch with rural Ireland,"he added.

Mr Boland also called for the Government to examine the bidding system because he feels since there is only one bidder left, it is likely that the process will "be delayed for as long as possible until the company get a good deal."

Mr Boland also said that the gap between urban and rural areas will only widen if the broadband issue isn't resolved.

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"There's a massive gap in terms of jobs and services between rural Ireland and Dublin and it's growing and preventing companies from setting up there," he said.

ICMSA president Pat McCormack echoed Mr Boland's concerns and pointed out that he fears the Government's commitment to a nationwide broadband roll-out is losing critical momentum and is being allowed to slip down the political agenda.

"There's no point in pretending that we're not becoming a little anxious about the loss of momentum and drive that seems to have enveloped the policy and the criticism being directed at the strategy for deficiencies in competition and tendering," Mr McCormack continued.

'Financing gap'

"There's also a so-called 'financing gap' which refers to a deficit between what the Government has allocated and what the contractors estimate the roll-out will cost."

He added that the rolling out of a National Broadband Plan was "non-negotiable" and has to be delivered on.

"As far as rural communities are concerned, the state policy on a complete roll-out of rural broadband within the time frame set out upon announcement is non-negotiable,"he said.

"It is realistically the only major national infrastructural project that the vast majority of rural districts will ever see and ICMSA will not accept a deferment or postponement on grounds of non-availability of finance at a time when no such considerations seem to apply to urban transport or motorway projects."

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