Editorial: State failing to protect vital rural services
The fate of 45,000 rural broadband users is a timely reminder of what happens without proper planning. The fact that the National Broadband Scheme is being allowed to expire with no contingency or backup will result in thousands of people seeing their internet bills close to doubling at the end of this month. This taxpayer-funded scheme filled in the broadband blackspots around the country, predominantly in remote areas of rural Ireland. By and large, it worked well. The State paid the provider, 3 Ireland, €80m in exchange for offering a basic broadband service in parts of the country where no operator would invest.
But now that the scheme's set time period has come to an end, the operator involved has informed thousands of rural internet users that prices are set to rise and service levels set to fall. And those customers have little choice but to pay up: the definition of a National Broadband Scheme area is a district where there is no other functioning broadband provider, not even Eircom's basic phone line service.
This is hardly 3 Ireland's fault: it is simply trying to make a return in difficult economic conditions for telecoms companies.
Angry householders might instead direct some sharp questions at government planners and regulators. How has a situation developed where a vital service in vulnerable areas of the country has been allowed to fall into the hands of a relatively unsupervised monopoly? What does it say about the country's approach to connecting communities to high speed infrastructure?
We have heard many times promises about 21st century communications being brought to remote areas. But this latest move will not inspire much confidence in the State's ability to safeguard rural broadband users.