Monday 12 November 2018

Broadband shambles is another betrayal of rural Ireland

Editorial Comment

It would be funny if it wasn't so serious.

The omnishambles that has become of the Government's much vaunted rural broadband roll-out has reached farcical new levels.

A day after the shock announcement that Eir - Ireland's biggest phone and internet provider - has pulled out of the tendering process for the National Broadband Plan, the Government's spin doctors reached a pathetic new low.

Let us be clear, Eir's decision to withdraw its bid deals a shattering blow to the credibility of the Government's rural broadband roll-out plans and casts enormous doubt over whether the plan - as originally promised - will ever be completed.

Yet, despite the clear evidence to the contrary, Government spokespeople - including our Communications Minister Denis Naughton - have tried to claim it as some sort of victory. Rather than being a disaster of epic proportions, Eir's decision to withdraw its bid was actually good news, it was claimed. So good in fact that the decision of our country's biggest internet provider to pull the plug on its bid was, in fact, proof positive of just how forward thinking our Government's broadband plans are.

Minister Naughton went so far as to suggest the debacle showed that Ireland's is at the forefront and leading edge of international communications.

In the wake of his frankly bizarre claims, one prominent commentator, Ivan Yates on Newstalk, compared Naughton to 'Comical Ali'. It was hard to disagree.

For those who don't remember 'Ali', he was the famous Iraqi 'Information Minister' who, despite all evidence to the contrary (including US tanks rolling past in the background in one famous interview) insisted, to much international mockery, that Iraq was winning the war against George Bush's military in 2003.

Eir's Chief Executive Richard Moat had a rather different take from Minister Naughton. He described the bidding process as 'increasingly onerous' and, rather pointedly, stated that the Government's business case did not stack up.

Hardly a ringing endorsement of a Government working at the cutting edge of communications technology and infrastructure development.

To be fair to Minister Naughton, he did point out that Eir's withdrawal from the bidding process - one which seems entirely understandable and reasonable based on Mr Moat's comments - should help bring a quicker conclusion to the lengthy tendering process.

It's a fair point. When there are only two parties in a potential deal and one has the other over a barrel, negotiations do tend to go quickly. Every cloud has a silver lining as they say.

The tragedy of all this is that, once again, rural Ireland suffers. While billions are poured into our cities there is scant investment in isolated areas which are left without a resource that is now as vital as electricity and water. The Government says it wants to create jobs in rural Ireland to help end rural isolation and decline. That won't be easy without internet access.

Enniscorthy Guardian