Adrian Weckler: ‘Handing over high-speed internet roll-out to a semi-State would be difficult’
Are we really about to change tack on rural broadband roll-out after six years? It’s not impossible. A combination of factors, mostly political ones, have converged to put it on the agenda.
In theory, a State-sponsored entity such as the ESB or Ervia could handle some part of a rural broadband roll-out. They have the reach and large chunks of expertise.
In practice, it might be much more difficult to secure a real roll-out plan with either entity.
The ESB has already walked away from participation in a State-subsidised broadband roll-out for its own reasons. There are no indications it would be keen to revisit that decision: it might even fight against it.
An entity such as Ervia (Irish Water), despite its prowess through its Aurora Telecom subsidiary, would still face massive logistical challenges in building out thousands of kilometres of network fibre along ribbon developments.
Designing and constructing this is complex, technically and legally. This is one of the reasons it has taken so long up to now.
One thing is clear: rural residents are less fussed about the method of delivery than urban pundits.
They need basic broadband and they need it quickly. Their kids are leaving their villages and towns. They see their areas passed up for investment because of a lack of infrastructure.
They are entitled to feel that, after six years of preparation, design and tenders, the State should have a solution ready now.
They also arguably deserve the support of political parties in the process, regardless of short-term gain. There is a genuine national interest at stake.
If the National Broadband Plan’s auditor comes back with something that suggests there is a real and present danger to the tender, then the Government clearly has to reassess it.
But if he comes back with a green light, if there is an opportunity to proceed with a viable build-out, then it surely behoves political interests to consider supporting that too.