Friday 18 October 2019

John Downing: 'Time to give all rural areas the fast networks to grow and bloom'


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John Downing

John Downing

It is impossible to argue people in any part of the country should be deprived of access to diversions like Netflix.

But this one is about far more than entertainment. The increasing reality is that many of our daily necessities, spanning business, health, education and the rest, begin with downloading something-or-other from the web and continue in a similar vein.

Internet access is the stuff of daily life. Since last year all EU farm payments are done only via the internet. Those farmers deprived of web access, we are told, have been helped and we have not heard too much to the contrary.

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But such make-and-mend remedies, upon which most of our far-flung regions depend, are not a long-term solution. We all need high-speed broadband as soon as possible.

We trust that this Government decision now means every home in the country will have the option of high-speed fibre broadband within the coming seven years at latest.

Right now more than half-a-million homes and businesses outside of the areas served by commercial providers are left without this service.

Getting to all the furthest reaches will be exceptionally expensive. But it will be the measure of this programme which has the potential to put Ireland in the vanguard of world technological developments.

Options around excluding 5pc of the most remote homes and businesses were looked at. But ministers decided everybody must be catered for despite huge cost hikes.

Given technological changes, it seems reasonable wireless 5G technology should also play a part.

Yes, it could take up to seven years - but we have been talking about this for much the same time-scale. Action is now needed.

Hopefully, the final contract can be signed this autumn and work can start soon thereafter. We are told people will see results in their locality across every county within two years.

Up to 1,500 jobs will be created. The contract goes to an entity called Granahan McCourt - but watch for a new company called National Broadband Ireland.

It will be extremely expensive - totalling just €3bn at time of writing. Forget claims that it will be spread over 20 years - if it's going to work, much of the cash must be front-loaded.

There will be rows about writing blank cheques and giving away the national broadband infrastructure. The Government has various counterpoints about these.

But hold one thought: the greater Dublin area is choking on its own congestion. Many parts of rural Ireland are dying for want of young people.

High-speed broadband offers an opportunity to rebalance our development like no other facility. There are few cast-iron guarantees attaching to this major splurge of Irish taxpayers' hard-earned cash.

Yet the time has come to be bold and take the plunge. Please, bring on the high-speed broadband.

Irish Independent

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