Nearly 20 years ago this summer Eircom was sold out of State ownership. Most of the people who bought shares did so in 1999 after a massive publicity campaign.
Many were ordinary Irish people who had savings and were enticed into buying back a company they already owned. Nobody shouted stop. A quick buck was to be earned. However, within a short time, corporate shenanigans meant many of these small shareholders would lose much of their investment. It was a disaster for many people.
The decision by the then Fianna Fáil-led government to include the phone line infrastructure in the sale has proved as costly to us all. As a result, Eircom's descendant eir retains a virtual monopoly of what's called fixed-line telephony in the State.
Eir pulled out of the bidding process to win the new national broadband contract.
Last week we were told that it will cost taxpayers €3 billion to roll out broadband to every home in Ireland. Ireland's top civil servant charged with spending public is shouting stop. He says it is not good value for money. The Government listened to him but it believes the value of getting broadband to every home and business in the country will yield dividends that outweigh the costs and risks of a massive loss.
A very similar argument was made when defending the huge overruns on the National Children's Hospital. Many parts of Ireland cannot develop or attract investment that would create jobs unless broadband is delivered. However, many people in Ireland have no homes. Some blame this on a refusal by the State to invest in public housing.
This same ideology led to Irish Water debacle which many believe was just the trojan horse to privatising our water supply.
Many people still remember and regret the Eircom mess.
The sad irony is that Eir may end up being paid by the State to carry some of the new fibre.
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