RURAL Ireland has long suffered from a digital divide in relation to the availability of broadband services. So there will be genuine – if cautious – optimism at the Government's announcement that it is to substantially increase the funding available for fibre broadband in rural areas. The initiative, which could see up to €1bn of new money invested in rural internet provision, will hopefully address one of the most glaring infrastructural deficits faced by non-urban citizens. Under the scheme, over 1,000 small towns and villages will see fibre broadband laid down to connect homeowners and businesses to services they cannot currently access under their flimsy existing infrastructure.
If completed, the initiative will transform the ability of rural regions to attract investment. It will also give non-urban dwellers access to many services that are currently only available to city and town residents.
There remains some devil in the detail. Who will partner with the Government in delivering the services? Will the networks be sustainable in the long term?
Despite being approved by Cabinet, the rollout is not yet completely signed off on, with Europe's blessing required due to the fact that the move involves state aid. However, the Government says it is confident that this will happen. Cynics might suggest that with local elections just four weeks away, an initiative announcing fibre broadband for over 1,000 rural towns and villages smacks of convenient timing. Whether or not that is a factor, the people set to eventually benefit might just be glad that their slow-lane, online handicap is finally being addressed.