Coalition waters down plan for high-speed broadband
THE Government's plan for high- speed rural broadband may be significantly watered down, with up to 800,000 rural homes and businesses missing out on fibre-speed services.
The Government's €175m National Broadband Plan had committed to funding rural premises with minimum broadband services of 30 megabits per second (Mbs), considered to be a basic fibre speed, by the end of next year.
However, despite renewed commitments to the 30Mbs speeds as recently as July 1, Minister for Communications Pat Rabbitte has now said that the Government may revert to lower speeds measuring "up to" 30Mbs.
"I'm not sure that a minimum speed is written in stone the more I learn about it," Mr Rabbitte said.
"I'm more interested in the quality of the broadband than whether it's 29Mbs or 31Mbs."
The comments may worry rural broadband campaigners banking on the Government's pledge to equip all parts of the country with comparable high-speed broadband as in urban areas.
"This is such a critical issue for the country's recovery that we need to do it," Mr Rabbitte said last August when the plan was initially launched.
"The IDA has made me aware that broadband access can be a decisive factor for multinational investors in Ireland." The Government was reiterating its promise of 30Mbs minimum speeds as recently as July 1.
However, broadband services promising "up to" speeds have come in for heavy criticism recently.
A European Commission report in June found that fibre broadband services deliver little more than half their promised speeds in Ireland.
Urban Irish broadband services suffer similar problems, with Eircom and mobile operators admitting that many of their telephone line and mobile broadband services do not currently deliver advertised speeds.
At present, a 30Mbs fibre-speed broadband service in rural Ireland costs in excess of €100 per month, placing it beyond the reach of most households.
At present, UPC's fibre broadband network extends to almost 700,000 homes and businesses, while Eircom has promised a network of 1.2 million fibre-connected homes and businesses by 2015.
However, this leaves up to 800,000 premises relying on government-planned broadband services or alternative solutions, such as satellite broadband which is more expensive.