Rural Broadband

The group has welcomed the launch of a National Broadband Strategy but feels further action and clarification is necessary. Without such technical clarity we believe the plan may actually stall progress in that no commercial operator will invest in end use when they do not know what the technical requirements or financial arrangements will be in two years’ time. To put it simply, why would any operator now invest in rural broadband when they, or others, may be incentivised to do so in a few years’ time? We therefore request the Minister to provide technical clarification on what will happen to the fibre as it terminates in rural areas outlined in the Plan. How will it be further distributed and who will be responsible?

We recognise that providing fibre optic connections to every home is an expensive project (various estimates exist around the €5 billion mark) and therefore cannot be rolled out immediately. However it must be recognised that this is the only goal eventually. While fibre should remain relevant for at least 50 years, current technologies such as fixed wireless or 3G/4G are not acceptable solutions and cannot even provide the speeds and capacity required now, never mind in the future. Similarly communities using technology such as MIMO are not future proofed. Therefore fibre optic cabling as an infrastructure investment and requires an investment plan over a defined period of time. This is much the same way that rural electrification was rolled out and is equally important.

The costs mentioned above for rolling out fibre could be substantially reduced if the civil engineering costs were reduced. Much of this cost relates to administration and could be reduced by the State if procedures were standardised and simplified. We request the government examine the introduction of a fast-track simplified procedure on a national basis. This would deal with issues such as planning permission and road closure notices.

There are community groups which wish to move ahead and rural communities in Ireland have a good history of dealing with problems themselves (eg Group Water Schemes). In particular there is great interest from Muintir na Tíre Community Councils in establishing co-operative schemes. It is important these groups be facilitated, particularly to ensure their current work is not at variance with the expected outcome from the National Broadband Plan. In its simplest form, there must be provision for connectivity to whatever backhaul will be provided. We therefore believe that technical advice should be available to groups who wish to proceed with community schemes. We also believe that groups that organise now should be given priority in any future connectivity to be provided.

Summary Solutions:
• Provide technical clarity on what will happen at the end of the National Broadband Plan, particularly in further roll out from exchanges.
• Give commitment to providing fibre to all homes over a defined period of time and acknowledge that this is the desired technical solution.
• Reduce civil engineering costs through simplifying and standardising administrative procedures.
• Provide technical advice and priority access to community groups who wish to provide a service now.
• Utilise existing structures (eg Community Councils) to disseminate information.
• Shorten the implementation timetable to allow for the greater availability of fibre installers.