Last boom gave us ‘Bertie Bowl’ and motorways, now we hope for an information superhighway


Last boom gave us ‘Bertie Bowl’ and motorways, now we hope for an information superhighway


‘Price of progress’: Taoiseach Leo Varadkar speaks at the launch of the National Broadband Plan yesterday. PHOTO: STEVE HUMPHREYS
‘Price of progress’: Taoiseach Leo Varadkar speaks at the launch of the National Broadband Plan yesterday. PHOTO: STEVE HUMPHREYS

It’s a rare day when our Government makes a decision that will intrinsically alter the fabric of society for generations to come.

Yes, ministers influence which towns get a new hospital, school or train station – but not very often do they actively reach inside the privacy of your home.

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The National Broadband Plan (NBP) was first announced seven years ago. It will be another seven before the final house is connected to high-speed internet.

Back in 2012, the Fine Gael-Labour coalition estimated the costs at between €335m and €500m. Today, the State values the need for rural broadband at €2.97bn.

That figure was reached after 880 hours of dialogue with three bidders, two of whom dropped out during tendering.

What’s left behind is a document described by one official as “1,500 pages of torture”.

The detail of how we got here and what happens next is likely to be quickly lost in the political din.

Fine Gael, as the main government party, is caught between boasting about finally getting the NBP moving and defending the massive cost for taxpayers.

“We must pay the price of progress now or we risk staying trapped in the past forever,” Taoiseach Leo Varadkar said.

Opposition parties are welcoming the progress while simultaneously trying to conflate the situation with the National Children’s Hospital fiasco.

“Fine Gael has completely mismanaged this project from the beginning and has wasted taxpayers’ money,” said Fianna Fáil’s Timmy Dooley.


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The reality is most people just want to know the deal is robust and will deliver.

Nowadays, technology seems to evolve faster than the eye can move but industry sources claim the fibre-to-the-home option is best in terms of being “future proofed” for 35 years.

Other countries are going down the same route. Ireland is unique, though, in promising to bring it to every last home in the country, be that on the highest mountain or the lowest valley.

“In five or six years’ time we’ll be at the forefront. We’ll be the envy of Europe and the world,” a government source said. But if it goes wrong, the NBP will be like the ‘Bertie Bowl’, electronic voting and the millennium clock all rolled into one.

As part of the project, officials have mapped in the region of 60,000 townlands across the country. Some 80pc of homes lie outside the main parameter of a village.

The plan covers 670 primary schools, 56,000 farms and 44,000 businesses. It all amounts to well over one million people who want this to succeed. Ministers are betting on them believing the cost is secondary.

The Irish Independent has learned the Department of Communications’ estimated cost for the now approved roll-out at €1bn when the bidding process commenced in December 2015.

At that point the proposal included 755,000 premises but Eir was later allowed to siphon off 300,000 of the “easy to reach” homes.

That made the remaining offer less attractive to companies and ultimately drove the price for the taxpayer upwards.

A “competitive dialogue” took place involving three bidders but two dropped out before they entered the home straight. One – Eir – still stands to make €1bn by allowing the winning consortium to piggyback on its network of poles and ducts.

The total €2.97bn cost for the State includes VAT and contingencies. Money will be handed over for 25 years, although the big bills are in the first decade.

The contingency fund is €545m and can only be drawn down for 14 specific activities which haven’t been made public.

VAT, which ultimately finds its way back into the State coffers, amounts to €355m.

As for the alternatives, at this stage taking any other route will delay the roll-out by years and there’s no guarantees they would be any cheaper.

One of the few good things to come from the last boom was our motorway network. This time it’ll hopefully be the information highway.

Irish Independent


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