The signing of the €3 billion National Broadband Plan contract has come after a protracted saga over its provision.
When it was eventually signed off on last week it was hailed by the Taoiseach as the “ biggest investment in rural Ireland ever and the most significant since rural electrification”.
There is no disputing that in terms of key infrastructure, it is a hugely significant development foreseeing as it does the rollout of high speed broadband to 1.1 million people living and working in nearly 540,000 premises, comprising homes, schools, businesses and farm, where commercial operators will not commit to deliver the service.
An average of over €100 million in every local authority is to be invested in the project. Initially 300 broadband connection points will be set up in community settings such as GAA clubs, community centres and public libraries.
These hubs will provide free high-speed broadband to people living in rural areas until broadband is delivered to their homes. A national broadband plan for rural Ireland is long overdue. Yet, while welcome there is plenty to be concerned about.
Opposition parties have called for the network to be publicly owned, given the huge State investment. Indeed, it's perfectly arguable the State should retain ownership, or at least a considerable stake in it, as a matter of good public policy given what is being spent.
Getting value for money has always been a difficulty for governments in this country and the most recent and perhaps glaring example, the National Children’s Hospital, does not inspire much confidence.
We have every reason to be somewhat apprehensive when it comes to huge infrastructural projects such as this. The national broadband plan is welcome, and its delivery needs to be effective.
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