The decision by Government to proceed with the National Broadband Plan “is one of the defining moments in the history of our country”, the former minister for communications, climate action and the environment has stated.

Roscommon-Galway TD Denis Naughten said the move to appoint Granahan McCourt Capital consortium – the only bidder left in the tendering process for the project – with the contract is a “turning point” for the revitalisation of rural Ireland.

The plan – agreed by cabinet yesterday, Tuesday, May 7 – will supply broadband to the one quarter of Irish people and premises which currently cannot access high-speed broadband through commercial services in a project expected to cost in the region of €3 billion – over a 25-year period.

Speaking after the announcement Naughten said: “When I entered Government my absolute priority as minister was to ensure that high-speed broadband was provided to the more than 540,000 households and more than 1.1 million people in rural Ireland who do not currently have access to this essential service.

“When I left Government this complex procurement procedure was completed and all that remained was to obtain Government approval for the project. This announcement completes this process,” he said.

Naughten stepped down from his position in the wake of a controversy surrounding the awarding of the national broadband contract last October.

According to the Government, the plan will also commit to delivering high-speed broadband to 56,000 farms – 68% of the national total of farms – and 44,000 non-farm businesses, mostly small and micro enterprises.

“Just as roads came, and then electricity, broadband will now be delivered to every townland in Ireland and it will leave as lasting a legacy throughout our country,” said Naughten.

“To overcome isolation, to challenge the sense of powerlessness in homes and in parishes across rural Ireland, our children must be able to do their homework, our small enterprises and family farms must be able to do their business, online if required. This investment will make this a reality.

When I took office in 2016 only five out of 10 premises in Ireland had access to high-speed broadband.

“Today, that is closer to eight out of 10 premises. I am not aware of any other country on the planet that has achieved this particular milestone for such a disperse rural country.

“In the last century Ireland was the first country in the world to bring electricity to every home and when this project is completed Ireland will become the first country in the world to bring high-speed broadband to every home,” he concluded.

‘County hotspots’

According to the Government, the move will provide fibre to 98% of all premises with speeds starting from 150mb/s, rising to 500mb/s in year 10 for residential users and much higher speeds available for business.

Deployment of the network will commence immediately, once contracts are signed. As a result over 90% of premises in the state will have access to high-speed broadband within the next four years.

The vision is that nearly 300 broadband connection points (BCPs) will be provided during year 1, acting as “hotspots” providing free Wi-Fi in local communities supporting digital work hubs in every county.

The provision of the fibre network will take place in conjunction with these BCPs, with the aim of 120,000 premises covered by year 2, and 70,000-100,000 premises each year thereafter.