The Government’s National Broadband Plan has cleared its final regulatory hurdle with state-aid approval from the EU.
“The European Commission has approved, under EU State aid rules, €2.6 billion of public support for the Irish National Broadband Plan,” said a statement from the regulatory authority.
The move clears the way for the Government to sign a contract with National Broadband Ireland, the ‘preferred bidder’ in the state’s rural broadband tender.
Under the scheme, around 500,000 home and businesses in rural areas will receive a ‘full fibre’ broadband connection to their premises, a service that will offer modern city connectivity speeds.
EU Competition Commissioner Margrethe Vestager said that the measure was improved as a measure to address the “significant digital divide between urban and rural areas in Ireland”. She said that it will “help households and businesses in areas of Ireland where private investment is insufficient”.
The Commission also hinted that 5G or wireless broadband services may not offer a viable alternative, pointing out that the proposed fibre network “will be capable of supporting download speeds of at least 150 Megabits per second and upload speeds of at least 30 Megabits per second”.
Such minimum speeds are generally unavailable on a consistent basis from wireless or 5G services.
The Commission statement went on to say that “no private investor has demonstrated a concrete plan to invest commercially in the near future” in the designated areas targeted.
“I welcome today’s decision by the European Commission to grant state aid approval to the National Broadband Plan,” said Communications Minister Richard Bruton.
“Today’s decision from the Commission allows the government to proceed towards signing the National Broadband Plan contract with National Broadband Ireland which will commence the roll out of 147,000km of fibre to homes, farms, businesses and schools across our country," he said.
"The National Broadband Plan will deliver high speed broadband to 1.1 million people, almost one quarter of our country.
"Without high speed broadband it will be significantly more difficult to attract new jobs to rural areas and develop new enterprise opportunities and it will be more difficult to retain the jobs that currently exist in these areas.
"High speed broadband will allow remote working, which can ease congestion and reduce emissions.
"It will ensure that the digital revolution happening in education, healthcare, farming and tourism does not bypass rural Ireland.
"We will make sure that rural Ireland is not left behind,” added the Minister.