Broadband debacle and planning framework leave the west behind

The way we were...Minister for Communications Denis Naughten with Eir CEO Richard Moat in Roscommon, announcing the rural broadband roll-out last year.
The way we were...Minister for Communications Denis Naughten with Eir CEO Richard Moat in Roscommon, announcing the rural broadband roll-out last year.

World of Politics with Harry McGee – harrymcgee@gmail.com

It has not been a good week for rural Ireland. First, the telecoms company Eir pulled out of the ender process for rural broadband – and then the Cabinet had a special meeting on Monday night to discuss the National Planning Framework, which sets out a vision for what Ireland will look like in 2040.

The problem from a rural Ireland perspective is that, at this moment in time, it’s a very Dublin-centric kind of strategy.

But first the broadband fiasco; ever since I started writing about politics on a day-to-day basis fifteen years ago, we have been hearing about a national broadband plan. So many ‘national’ plans that have been “rolled out” over the years and still over 500,000 premises remain unconnected.

Along the way there were the MANS or metropolitan area networks, which provided optic-fibre network to 88 Irish towns including Athenry, Loughrea and Gort.

That was a very costly project and while it has worked well in some cases, what happened in others is that the commercial broadband operators went in separately and provided their own networks.

In an attempt to connect all homes, then Minister Eamon Ryan entered a deal with a mobile provider but it wasn’t really broadband – it was mobile wireless, not really the kind of high speed bandwidth a business might need.

And then, of course, it only worked in places where there was a strong mobile signal. And, of course, as we know there are whole swathes of Galway and Mayo where the mobile signal is non-existent.

The current plan, the National Broadband Plan, has been knocking around in one form or other for about a decade. The two Minister with prime responsibility for it are from this neck of the woods, Minister for Communications Denis Naughten in Roscommon-Galway; and Michael Ring in Mayo.

Essentially, the plan is to connect the remaining 550,000 premises in the country that don’t have high-speed broadband.

For more, read this week’s Connacht Tribune.