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Ireland broadband map 2016
High-speed broadband provincial coverage as expected by 2016. Source: Dept of Communications



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25 November 2014 | 0

Niall Kitson portraitThe Government’s National Broadband Plan as presented through a series of maps published yesterday should be lauded for illuminating the scale of the Digital Divide. It should also be greeted with scepticism. Can the Department of Communications under Alex White oversee the successful creation of an inclusive broadband market or will the haves benefit from the proliferation of fibre networks at the expense of smaller townlands? Time and history are not on his side.

In 2008 Hutchison Whampoa (aka Three) was awarded a national contract to fill coverage blackspots using it wireless technology to deliver download speeds up to 10.4Mb/s at a cost of €20 a month. By 2008 standards this represented a good deal but by the time the project wrapped up in August this year it’s enough to maintain consistent streaming media and VoIP calls in standard definition but isn’t up to the standard demanded by gaming, 3D (when virtual reality takes it mainstream) and 4K.

In 2011, Government vowed to go where Three couldn’t, using a total of 29 companies in the Rural Broadband Scheme, delivered in association with the Department of Agriculture under the Rural Development Plan in 2011. Of the 5,000 applicants, only 2011 offers of service were made, and of that only 509 were taken up. There could be plenty of reasons for this – emigration, lack of interest, the arrival private sector competition, for example – but the low uptake does not inspire.

Back on track
Now we have a new plan for consumers and businesses (the education sector already has a plan to get every school in the country on 100Mb/s by the end of this year) to put Ireland on course to meet the EU Digital Agenda target of ensuring 50% of households have access to 100Mb/s broadband by 2020.

Unlike the 2008 plan rewarding a single operator or the limited geographical scale of 2011, this time the plan is to involve as many companies in as many parts of the country as possible. As expected, I had a few reaction e-mails.

UPC was first to my inbox. Having already invested over €1 billion in its ‘fibre-power’ network and the first to get to market with connections topping 100Mb/s it took a diplomatic line. “We are fully supportive of the Government’s objective to ensure that those parts of Ireland which currently do not have access to high-speed broadband will be able to receive speeds of at least 30 Mb/s,” an official statement read. “The National Broadband Plan and related development programmes provide the building blocks for further progress which will complement the multi-million euro investments that have been or are being made by the private sector.”

In other words: this doesn’t change our plans one jot.

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