Friday 24 May 2019

Adrian Weckler: All you need to know about rural broadband as politicians turn the corner

All your questions answered about the Rural Broadband plan

Connections: Broadband speeds will rise across the State’s rural areas. Picture: Steve Humphreys
Connections: Broadband speeds will rise across the State’s rural areas. Picture: Steve Humphreys
Adrian Weckler

Adrian Weckler

Our Technology editor answers all your questions on the controversial €3bn rural broadband plan

I'm sick of waiting for decent broadband. Is this actually going to happen?

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It's really starting to look a lot more likely. There's now a roll-out schedule and a contract almost ready to be signed with an official "preferred bidder" for the massive €3bn rural broadband contract. That bidder is Granahan McCourt, which has registered a company called 'National Broadband Ireland' especially to do this roll-out and operate the network for the next 35 years.

Does everyone get it?

No. You have to be in one of 540,000 (mostly rural) homes or businesses that have been assessed as having sub-par broadband. In technical terms, that means you can't get a service of over 30Mbs. About a million people live in areas like this.

That's definitely my area. So when will I get it?

It depends in which one of the 540,000 designated rural households you live. The first homes will likely be connected in early 2020, with the roll-out officially slated to begin this autumn. The Government says all counties will initially see thousands of premises hooked up. But the overall timetable is five years to hook up 400,000 of these premises, with the remaining 100,000 taking another two years.

What if I'm one of those 100,000?

The Government has built in a provision for 300 community "points" around the country in areas like libraries and village centres that will be connected to fibre broadband, even if local households are still waiting. This would give residents a chance to work or access the service close to their own home.

Do I get it no matter where I live?

Yes. That includes people living on islands or up mountains.

Do you have to have your home built already to qualify for the rural service?

No. Any new home built in a rural area currently not served by a decent broadband operator will qualify to get the subsidised service.

How much will it cost me?

About the same as a high speed city broadband service from the likes of Virgin, Eir, Vodafone or Sky. That means around €35-per-month for a 150Mbs service. There's also a €100 connection cost, although it's unclear yet whether the householder or the retailer will pay this.

What sort of broadband are we talking about?

Fixed fibre. The kind of line that can easily run a business, multiple high definition services or a combination of the two. It's delivered into your home like a telephone wire - in fact, it's mostly distributed over existing telephone poles. There isn't really anything better you can currently get, either in Ireland or anywhere else.

Yes, but if it's a State-subsidised service, doesn't it mean it will get a bit shabby and fall behind private services after a while?

Apparently not. It's written into the contract the rural fibre service has to keep pace with city and urban equivalents. To be more specific, this is a fibre network being built to accommodate speeds of up to 10,000Mbs from launch (even though it will initially only market services of up to 1,000Mbs). But the minute Eir or Siro or Virgin starts selling ultra high speed broadband at, say, 2,000Mbs or 5,000Mbs, this network is obliged to offer a like-for-like service.

So if I want to sign up, who do I contact?

It's a 'wholesale' network. This basically means it's a backbone being built that branded retailers you've already heard of (like Eir or Vodafone or Sky) can use to then sell you a broadband package. So either one (or more) of these companies will start marketing this new top-of-the-line fibre broadband to you, or you can ring up and ask whether they sell it in your area. They'll be the ones you talk to and get a bill from.

Is this going to be watched over by Comreg? Or if I have a complaint about my service, who do I turn to?

You can still complain to Comreg. They'll bring it up with the retailer (it might be Vodafone or Sky or Eir using the NBP network, selling you the service).

Is it just broadband or will it improve my mobile signal?

It's just broadband. Although if you do have decent broadband you can often boost your mobile signal using increasingly common digital boxes.

I heard the Government won't own the network at the end of the 25-year contract with the bidder. So what happens to my broadband when that's up?

The bidder has an obligation to maintain the service for an extra 10 years at an equivalent high standard. After that, it's up to the regulator (or government) of the day to decide on how much the bidder can then charge you.

I've heard all of this before. Where does this ranks on a scale of one to 10 in terms of reality?

Eight. The Government appears to have turned a corner. It has made up its mind and now has the contract all but signed.

Irish Independent

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