The government has published a new map outlining in detail 700,000 rural homes and businesses which will be connected to state-subsidised broadband of at least 30 megabits per second (Mbs) from 2016.
Launching the National Broadband Plan map, Minister for Communications Alex White said that 600,000 rural homes and 100,000 rural businesses would be included in the new state-funded fibre broadband network, which is expected to cost the taxpayer between €355m and €512m and will be completed by 2020.
Minister White said that the government will guarantee a minimum of 30Mbs to the rural premises.
“It will not be up to 30 megabits, which is a phrase that we may have used in the past,” he said. “This is a more ambitious plan. The intention is that 30 megabits is to be the minimum speed. This is a future-proofing project. Any infrastructure build needs to be able to scale to meet the demand that’s there now and and future demand.”
The state-subsidised plan is being embarked upon due to the lack of broadband rollout in rural areas by commercial operators. The plan must also pass EU state-aid tests, which prevent governments from providing services that could hurt commercial operators.
“The government is clear that this requires a robust state intervention to deliver to the parts of the country that the commercial sector won’t be in a position to do,” said Minister White.
“It’s not all that different in its scale to rural electrification. Although it’s 700,000 premises, the geographical area is huge. This map is a critical staging post. It’s the culmination of over a year’s work and shows the extent of the challenge. The area we’re intervening in represents about 100,000km of road network.”
The new service is expected to go to tender by the end of next year, he said. A number of operators have indicated interest tendering for the scheme, which will require them to contribute investment toward the project.
Asked why the process could take years to complete, Minister White drew a comparison with Irish Water.
“I think one of the lessons we’ve learned is that it’s worth taking time to get this right rather than rushing into something,” he said.
Eircom currently has its own plans to cover 1.6m of Ireland’s 2.3m premises with high-speed, fibre-connected broadband by the end of 2016. UPC covers 800,000 Irish homes and businesses.