Eircom engineer, Larry Doyle, feeds fibre broadband cables through a cable blowing machine to reach other installers in Knocklyon, South Dublin in 2012
The national broadband plan is supposed to provide high-speed internet services to 542,000 of the most isolated homes and businesses in Ireland.
This will require the laying of 110,000km of cable and cost upwards of €1.5 billion – an average of 200 metres of fibre and nearly €3,000 per home or business. By comparison, the cost of building the long-delayed children’s hospital is a paltry €1billion.
The return on this enormous broadband investment is predicted to be so low that so far no private company has sustained confidence that contributing even a third of this amount would provide a profit.
It is a truth universally acknowledged that the cost of attending to the needs of people in remote areas is considerably higher than attending to the needs of those in more densely populated areas. Ireland has, of course, the highest percentage population in the EU living in remote areas.
The 2016 census found that 38 per cent of Ireland’s population live outside of settlements of 1,500 people or more, compared to the EU average of just 22 per cent. The number of people living in such remote locations actually increased by 258,000 (17 per cent) between 1996 and 2016.
Ireland has not been subject to a “bungalow blitz” in recent decades, so much as a “bungalow apocalypse”.
When we consider the poor standards and high costs of Ireland’s public services, the highly scattered nature of our population must be a very significant factor indeed.
Those Scandinavian countries whose public services we most admire have as little as 13 per cent of their populations living in such isolation. This enables them to concentrate their funds to provide superior services in a limited number of locations, while we struggle to provide even basic services over a greater area.
Perhaps the State should reconsider its traditional approach of encouraging isolationists with grant and subsidy, and instead incentivise more sustainable living patterns.
Withholding subsidised broadband might be an easy place to start. The savings could fund a second children’s hospital in Cork instead – after all, if people really want Netflix that much, they could just move to a town with fibre.
National broadband plan (Irish Times letters page)