Opinion

Jack Russell: NBP – it’s as broad as it is long

One of the cautionary axioms closest to Jack Russell’s heart warns you to be careful about what you wish for.

Always think about what you’re loudly proclaiming to be your heart’s desire. Even more importantly, always think about the motives of those people seemingly happy to give you your heart’s desire.

Think; think hard

The Terrier for the Truth wants all the rural TDs seemingly desperate for the Government to proceed with the roll-out of the National Broadband Plan (NBP) to pause for just a minute and think. Think hard.

Our old friends – “informed sources” – are telling the newspapers that the Government is set to give the greenlight to the rural broadband roll-out.

The same “informed sources” also made sure to tell the newspapers that not all the contributors to the decision were happy about the plan proceeding.

There was, we are told, some anxiety about the costs – a trifling €3 billion – spiralling out of control in the time-honoured fashion that projects controlled by the Irish Government have as their defining characteristic (the National Children’s Hospital is just the latest example).

But the cabinet, mindful of the perception that it is overly concentrated on urban and suburban issues, and cognisant of the immediately upcoming local and European elections, are determined to press ahead.

They want to: (A) show rural Ireland that it too matters; and (B) because they don’t fancy being deafened and bored by the Healy-Raes banging on about how the jarveys in Killarney want to go from ‘gee-up, horsey!’ to 5G broadband so they can livestream the trip around Muckross back to some potential customers in Milwaukee.

Of course both of those are entirely valid reasons for the state to spend €3 billion. But Jack is always a little suspicious of these staged ‘rows’ within governmental decision-making; they most always appear designed to show resolute national politicians overruling penny-pinching civil servants.

And then there’s the amount being allocated and the time-frame over which it’s to be spent. €3 billion is a lot of money; everyone would have to acknowledge that (well, maybe not certain plc remuneration committees) spread over 25 or 30 years?

Let’s call it €130 million per annum over that time-frame? Is it so much now? And that’s for the whole of Ireland.

Remember that they’re building a cycle path from Fairview to Amiens Street that’ll run for 2.7km. The cost? €20 million.

Jack would have said “on your bike!” to the supporters of that project but he suspects we won’t be hearing about “informed sources” expressing any reservations on projects of this type for Dublin.

Selling ourselves cheaply

The real danger here is that having nodded this one through, this and future governments will feel entitled to tell rural Ireland that ‘that’s your lot’ for a couple of decades.

Every time we ask for something, the cabinet of the day will shake their head, point to the ongoing cost of the national NBP and talk about competing infrastructural projects in Dublin or Cork.

They’ll give us the money, but they’ll never let us forget that they gave us the money and the cost of rural broadband is going to throw a shadow over every other ‘rural’ funding request for the next two decades – the civil servants will make sure of it.

Jack has the distinct feeling that we’re selling ourselves very cheaply here and we’ll very quickly realise we ought to have been much more careful about what we wished for.

Do we want the cost of the NBP to be held over us for 25 years when technology might give us a better and cheaper option within four or five years?

It’s a tough question that’s as broad as it is long.