‘Intolerable’ that some homes must wait another 7 years for broadband

It is “intolerable” that some homes and businesses will be “forced to wait” at least another seven years for high-speed broadband, according to independent TD Michael Fitzmaurice.

The Roscommon-Galway TD was reacting to the Government’s announcement regarding the National Broadband Plan yesterday, Tuesday, May 7.

According to the Government, the roll-out of the plan will commence in quarter four of 2019 – “with significant pre-mobilisation activities” ongoing over the next number of months.

It is understood that the majority of premises will be passed in the initial five years of the overall roll-out, with the project expected to be concluded by 2026.

Granahan McCourt Capital consortium – the only bidder left in the tendering process for the project – has been awarded the contract for the project which is expected to cost in the region of €3 billion, over a 25-year period.

Commenting on the matter, he said: “On one hand, it has to be welcomed – but on the other, it is questionable.

Firstly, it is intolerable to think that a contract would be given out and that it will take at least seven years before this infrastructure is delivered to most homes.

Fitzmaurice also expressed concerns that in the region of 10,000 homes will be left out of this plan and be “forced to look to other technologies” to secure broadband services.

“The Government stated yesterday that approximately 540,000 premises and over 1.1 million people will benefit from this plan – but that doesn’t mean every house down every road will benefit.

“I hope that the contractors have the necessary competence to complete this major piece of infrastructure.

From my understanding, the contract will not be signed for at least six months – but this could stretch to nine months.

“I’m led to believe that it could be up to two years before the first 120,000 premises are connected. They appear to be looking at a system of connecting 70,000 additional premises per year.”

Fitzmaurice described it as “baffling” to think that eir can connect in the region of 300,000 homes and businesses inside two years – while, “on the other hand”,  it will take up to seven years for 540,000 premises to benefit from this plan.

Ownership

Continuing, the independent TD took issue with other elements of the deal.

He added: “The great question outside of cost and an inability to manage is why does it take this Government a decade to do anything? They give tortoises a bad name.

This will be the most fiscally illiterate decision since the National Children’s Hospital was commissioned and the most ineffectual since the failed attempt to charge for water.

“It has the scent of electronic voting crossed with water charges. What we have now is neither fish nor fowl, neither public nor private, neither ours nor theirs.

“It is a permanent mortgage that will never cease to drain the pockets of the taxpayer – a lottery win for one man and a lost lottery ticket for the state,” he said.

Finer details

Fitzmaurice noted that, in relation to the procurement of other projects, when TDs have looked for the release of emails and documents relating to the procurement process in the past, they have “been denied” and told that this was “sensitive information”.

It is interesting then to hear that the Government made a plethora of documents relating to the procurement of this project available today.

“It is very unfair on any politician, or member of the public, to comment definitively on this announcement, as there are a lot of ‘ifs’ and ‘ands’. We need to make sure that we understand all of it.

“There is one clear message that needs to be sent to the Dublin elite; rural Ireland needs high-speed broadband.

Also Read: National Broadband Plan goes ahead as ‘preferred bidder’ appointed

“I have heard economists talking down why we should deliver broadband to the entire country. While it might be fine for them in their high-rise apartments in leafy suburbs with broadband coming out of their ears, businesses in rural Ireland are struggling to survive without broadband – and these people cannot afford to wait any longer.

“But let’s be very clear, the people of rural Ireland do not want to see money squandered and they do not want to see a situation where they are promised something which doesn’t materialise – or live up to expectations.”

Fitzmaurice said people only need to “cast their minds back” to 2012 when this same Fine Gael Government “promised” that broadband would be rolled out.

Now it looks as if it will be another seven years before the plan is completed. I hope we can believe what this Government is now saying, but the jury is still out on a lot of its previous assertions and promises.

“At the end of the day, if they let the people of rural Ireland down again on this, they will never be forgiven.

“Unfortunately, there is nothing at all to persuade us that – in a decade from now – we will not be having the same conversation we are currently having,” Fitzmaurice concluded.