October 17, 2019

MICHAEL WOLSEY: ‘Abandon this broadband plan before it bankrupts us all’

IF you choose to live in the centre of a city there are some problems you will have to contend with.

It will be noisy, possibly by night as well as day. If you own a car, you will have trouble parking. You will trip over tourists every time you leave the house. And when you do leave, you must be sure to lock your doors and windows – even so, there is a good chance your home will be burgled at least once.

It’s a trade-off. You put up with these hazards for the convenience of having shops, restaurants and the city’s other amenities on your doorstep.

If you choose to live at the end of a boreen, half way up a mountain, you will have few of these problems. But there will be other drawbacks associated with rural isolation. One of them is that you can’t have broadband piped into your home.

It’s just not possible. Except in the minds of Government ministers who, for the last seven years, have been persisting with an illusionary plan to provide high-speed broadband for every home that wants it.

When the plan was first mooted it was estimated to cost €500 million. The current estimate is that it will take an investment of €3 billion from taxpayers.

The truth is that nobody really knows how much it will cost because nobody has ever done anything like it. As far as I can see, only the Australian government has ever attempted such a thing – and it gave up, beaten by the technical difficulties and the astronomical cost of the project.

According to reports, that is the course of action officials from the finance and public expenditure departments have been urging on the Government. Pack it in. Cut your losses. Look for a cheaper solution .

But with elections looming, that is he last thing ministers want to hear. They would rather push on with a project that is likely to make the National Children’s Hospital look like a model of fiscal rectitude,

Don’t worry about the cost, ministers are saying. Sure won’t it be spread over 25 to 30 years.

That argument is as nonsensical as the plan itself. Thirty years ago there was no broadband and, at the speed with which technology changes, it is quite possible that, 30 years from now, it will have been replaced by something else or modified beyond recognition.

The advance of 5G could well make cabled broadband redundant. But even without it many wireless services are doing a fine job. A company called Viatel has brought excellent broadband to the Aran islands and another, called Ivertec, has brought it to Kerry’s Black Valley, the last place in Ireland to get electricity. It is not as fast as a fibre service and it might not do for, say, a major company trading worldwide. But it is fast enough for home use and for small rural businesses.

And it is fast enough for the house at the end of my hypothetical boreen. If you want to run an Amazon-style company from your kitchen there, that’s a different matter. You should either move your business or move house.

Rural dwellers, like city dwellers, need to accept that nowhere is perfect. The Government needs to accept that also and curtail this plan before it bankrupts the country.


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