Roll-out suggests attitude shift where 'pro-web' rhetoric is finally backed up
THERE'S no doubt about it: if you live in a rural area, this is good news. While there's still quite a bit to be finalised, small villages now have the prospect of getting a slice of what cities have been enjoying for over three years – fast, Netflix-munching broadband.
The Government's decision to sink as much as €512m into subsidised broadband also marks a sea change in attitude toward the internet as a key infrastructural asset. Up until now, Ireland has been reluctant to back up pro-internet rhetoric with substantial infrastructural investment.
Instead, we looked to market forces to provide broadband services to the population.
Some countries – particularly in the Far East and Scandinavia – chose a different path, prioritising subsidised infrastructure as a policy directive from an early stage. As a result, they now lead the world in broadband speeds.
Meanwhile, countries closer to home have belatedly followed, with countries like Britain ploughing hundreds of millions of pounds into broadband infrastructure in regions such as rural parts of Scotland.
So Ireland is late to the national broadband game. If we're being honest, one reason for this is that the debate about broadband here has often been dogged by a lack of belief in its core relevance. Broadband was often regarded as a frill or a perk of fast-lane 'techie' living. It never won or lost any elections.
Is the Government's upscaling of its rural broadband roll-out an indication that this attitude has changed?
Even if it has, there is still some way to go on delivering proper rural broadband. It could yet drift off into court challenges, delayed tenders and other hurdles.
And there are still questions as to how the Government's network partners will deliver 'fibre' broadband to townland dwellers, many of whom live several kilometres from the villages and small towns to be connected by the new network. In all likelihood, thousands of people will remain dependent on lower-tier solutions for some time to come.
But that is not to take away from the substance of what has been announced. It's a good day for rural Ireland.