Really Minister, who are you trying to kid?

Straight Talking - Darragh Clifford

Count yourself lucky, dear reader. For a large portion of last Sunday evening, it looked like this column on the page before you was going to be occupied by white space, free from all matter of words entirely.

With the deadline for this column to be filed looming larger than the impending referendum on the Eighth Amendment, I sat in my rural kitchen, in my rural house in good old rural Ireland and stared at my laptop as my temperamental rural broadband played havoc with my plans to do some work from home.

The fact that I am not alone, that I have over 500,000 brothers and sisters in arms across rural Ireland who spend their days and nights banging their heads off laptops and staring at blank TV screens as the latest season of The Crown buffers and stalls on Netflix, was of little comfort to me.

We are in a mess, a mess of monumental proportions. Last week's withdrawal by Eir from the National Broadband Plan is the latest twist in the long-running saga that is rural broadband. It's a tragic comedy of epic Irish scale - it's a John B Keane special for 21st Century Ireland.

Minister for Communications Denis Naughten has tried to assure all concerned that everything is hunky dory, and that the planned roll-out of high speed broadband to every home and business in the country remains on track.

Really Minister, who are you trying to kid? Writing in the Sunday Independent over the weekend, economist Colm McCarthy hit the nail on the head when he said that Ireland is the only country in the EU which has embarked on a 100pc fibre-only broadband roll-out with the promise of zero connection charges. And that roll-out is supposed to happen on infrastructure owned by Eir, which has pulled out of the process because they believe it doesn't make business sense.

Fibre-based broadband absolutely makes sense in densely populated areas, but large portions of this country, inhabited by 540,000 broadband customers such as yours truly, live in more isolated areas where the roll-out of fibre broadband will prove extremely costly. Why is the Government not actively looking at wireless based broadband for these customers?

Meanwhile, those without decent broadband look on despairingly as the years roll by. The latest Government target is for all homes and businesses to be connected by 2023. You can be sure that this target will be missed. It is taking so long for this fibre roll-out plan to be implemented that by the time it finally is, technology will have moved on and fibre broadband will be yesterday's news.

And then we will start all over again, slowly rolling out the next model for up-to-date broadband. Always late to the party, always behind the curve.