Minister: We can't promise fibre broadband for all areas
The Government cannot "promise" that super-fast fibre broadband will be rolled out to all homes in certain provincial areas, Rural Affairs Minister Ann Phelan has said.
While there is a commitment to bridging the divide between urban and rural availability, the prime objective is to have a minimum service of 30 megabytes countrywide, which is considered an average internet speed.
Describing the introduction of adequate connectivity as "challenging", Ms Phelan said the Government wishes to avoid the roll-out of the service in an "ad-hoc way".
She said it is one of the "most important issues" affecting isolated areas, and the proposed network must be "scalable and capable" in order to meet future anticipated traffic growth.
"The plan envisages dealing conclusively with the rural connectivity issue, so that current and future generations will have guaranteed access to high-speed broadband," she said.
"Whatever the technology used, it must ensure users have a minimum service of 30 megabites.
"Without fail, everywhere I go in a rural community, it is one of the most common issues that is raised with me."
She said the matter remains a priority for Government, adding that she is working "very closely" with Communications Minister Alex White to expedite the process.
Addressing a Joint Committee on Environment, Culture and the Gaeltacht, she said the next steps include a public consultation process over the summer.
She said the plan is akin to rural electrification in the 1950s.
Under the Rural Development Programme, some €250m will be injected into rural communities, to help address some of the significant issues of concern for those living in rural Ireland.
Last November, Mr White released a national broadband plan for rural Ireland, which aims to connect an estimated 700,000 homes and businesses by 2020.
At the time, the Government said it didn't expect to start the network's "physical build" until late 2016.
Ms Phelan also said planning failures in the past have contributed to the "demise" of some of Ireland's small towns and villages.
"I've often seen very large housing estates where there wasn't anything in a village to begin with. There was no pharmacy, no GP service, and the local school was very small, and couldn't cope with the influx of a huge amount of houses.
Referring to the decision by Bus éireann to cut certain routes, leaving some towns and villages without a direct link to the capital, she said the decision has left communities with "real concerns".
"Because of the Celtic Tiger era, we actually had a lot of people move down to rural Ireland, who still have families in the capital, and would like to be able to visit them.
"The concerns are very real that we have to deal with."
Meanwhile, Bus éireann has announced that Route 7, which runs from Dublin to Cork via Kilkenny and Clonmel, will remain in place in its current form until mid-June.
Planned changes to the schedule are being deferred until a report is completed by a new working group within the National Transport Authority (NTA).