“National Broadband Plan will be the most significant investment in rural Ireland since rural electrification” – Naughten

In Infrastructure, News by Denis Naughten

Speaking at an event in Grange National School, Co Roscommon, today, the Minister for Communications, Climate Change and Natural Resources, Denis Naughten T.D., today emphasised the Government’s strong commitment to revitalising rural Ireland through the implementation of the National Broadband Plan and other measures in the Programme for a Partnership Government.

Minister Naughten said “The National Broadband Plan is a defining Plan for Ireland, and particularly for rural Ireland. The network will be expected to serve at least 30% of the premises in Ireland who cannot currently get access to high speed services. It will have to traverse approximately 100,000km of road network or 96% of the land area of Ireland to get to every home, every business and every school. It will be the most significant investment in rural Ireland since rural electrification and will bring immediate benefits, as well as benefits that we have yet to dream of. Like the rural electrification programme, we will get to a point where “speeds” are no longer an issue –homes and businesses will just get the service they need, when they need it. It will also act as a catalyst for a whole host of new and improved activities. Farming, education, business, health, tourism, communities and government should all benefit from better connectivity. Working through my Department’s National Digital Strategy and the new Rural Digital Strategies, we will help to revitalise rural Ireland so that these benefits are felt inside every doorstep and every community”.

Today’s event marked the installation of a new broadband service in Grange National School, by Ripplecom, under the Government’s Schools’ Broadband Programme. Speaking at the event, Minister Naughten said “All second level schools now have access to 100mbps broadband provided by my Department and the Department of Education and Skills. Most cities and larger towns also have access to high speed services, thanks to considerable investment by the telecommunications sector. There are however still 1,500 primary schools, and over 750,000 premises, mainly in rural Ireland, who still cannot get access to high speed broadband services”.

The Minister said that delivering the National Broadband Plan is therefore a top priority for this Government and outlined how the new Government intends to deliver on this ambitious programme to bring high speed broadband to every home, school and business in Ireland.

Minister Naughten noted that under the new Programme for a Partnership Government, the weight of two Departments is being brought to bear on the Plan. Under new arrangements, the Department of Communications, Climate Change and Natural Resources will continue with the procurement for a high speed telecoms network, and will develop proposals for an entity to manage all of the State’s Broadband contracts. Minister Humphreys will be responsible for ensuring that rollout can be delivered quickly once contract(s) are in place.

Minister Naughten noted that this twin-track approach will include two important new initiatives:

1)The experience and resources of the new Department of Regional Development, Rural Affairs, Arts and the Gaeltacht will be brought to bear on the Plan. Minister Heather Humphreys will lead on the establishment of county or regional broadband taskforces and work with local authorities, Local Enterprise Offices, LEADER Groups and other relevant agencies to help accelerate the broadband network build in rural Ireland. These taskforces will develop rural digital strategies to (a) ensure that planning permissions and road openings can be processed quickly, (b) identify priority areas for the rollout of infrastructure and (c) develop regional digital hubs.

2)A national mobile phone and broadband taskforce will be established which will consider immediate measures to alleviate broadband and mobile phone service deficits which are frustrating communities and businesses across rural Ireland.

The Minister took the opportunity to provide an update on the procurement process to deliver a new network across rural Ireland. “This process already commenced and is well underway and I expect interested companies to be shortlisted as bidders in the next month. I intend to have a contract or contracts signed by June 2017”.