Monday 22 July 2019

Government can't 'promise' superfast fibre broadband will be rolled out countrywide - Rural Affairs Minister

Rural Affairs Minister Ann Phelan
Rural Affairs Minister Ann Phelan

Mark O’Regan

The Government cannot “promise” that superfast 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 broadband availability, the objective is to have a minimum service of 30 megabites countrywide.

Describing the introduction of adequate connectivity as “challenging”, she said the Government wishes to avoid the rollout of broadband in an “ad-hoc way.”

Describing it as one of the “most important issues” affecting isolated areas, the proposed network will 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 is a priority of 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.

The move towards “procurement phase” will begin in the Autumn.

“They hope to be in a position to select a preferred bidder by 2016. Physical build should take three to five years to complete.

“It’s a hugely complex area. It’s very high-tech and needs to be planned in a very careful way,” she added.

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, the Communications Minister Alex 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.

Committee Chairman, Michael McCarthy, TD, said they are keen to ensure that the concerns of those living in rural communities are heard.

“We are very cognisant of the fact,  that a vibrant rural economy,  is integral to the country’s economic growth and success,” he added.

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