The Government has committed to a major telecommunications network build-out to rural Ireland, with fibre as a cornerstone of its investment under the National Broadband Plan (NBP). Minister for Communications, Energy and Natural Resources, Pat Rabbitte announced last week that that this commitment was "a clear expression of Government’s determination to address the connectivity challenge in rural Ireland in a meaningful and sustainable way".
The Government has given the green light to the principle of a fibre build-out, which will be the cornerstone of the State’s strategy to deliver high-speed broadband to rural areas. An initial investment of €500 million will be made to address the digital divide between urban and rural areas.
Some 1,000 rural communities have already been identified as target areas for the proposed fibre-based connections. The strategy will include additional measures to ensure that consumers and businesses can avail of services being provided off the new fibre network. It is envisaged that telecommunications operators will be able to offer multiple services off the fibre network, including fixed wireless, copper-based and mobile services, as well as offering the possibility of direct fibre connections.
Detailed planning work is continuing in order to deliver the project. The Minister said that he will publish a comprehensive implementation strategy later this year. Central to the strategy will be a fibre build-out to locations in every county in the State identified as having no existing or planned enabling fibre network. The fibre will be delivered directly to access points for homes and businesses, where service providers can utilise the fibre to provide high speed services to end users. The fibre build-out will also ensure that fibre is deployed to strategic locations on each route such as schools, business hubs and health facilities.
The strategy will address all parts of Ireland that cannot access commercial high speed broadband services. To this end, it will include supporting measures to accelerate end user connections to the fibre network and proposals to address the most remote areas of the country. The Minister said he had asked his officials to explore options for an appropriate, demand-led mechanism for inclusion in the published implementation strategy. Consultation with the local authorities, voluntary and co-operative sectors will take place in order to explore how such a mechanism could be mobilised and supported.
Intensive design work is ongoing in the Department with a view to publishing an end-to-end implementation strategy later this year, together with the outcome of the mapping exercise which will identify the areas that require intervention. A full public consultation will take place once the strategy is published.
The Minister noted that since publication of the NBP telecommunications providers in Ireland have accelerated the roll out of high-speed services.
The last two years have seen significant increases in broadband usage and data traffic across broadband networks. The Minister noted that since publication of the NBP, the commercial sector has responded strongly in urban and semi-urban areas, offering high-speed services to consumers over multiple technology platforms, and is now investing approximately €2 billion in Ireland. For example: