Rural broadband scheme welcomed but concerns over quality and speed

The Western Development Commission has this week welcomed the Government’s commitment to providing a universal broadband scheme to all areas, but Mayo Fianna Fáil TD Dara Calleary has expressed serious concerns that the scheme omits those with unacceptably low level of service.

“Without broadband access, companies are at a competitive disadvantage,” said Deirdre Frost of the WDC. “This scheme recognises the importance of broadband for all parts of the country and its role in enabling rural enterprises to develop and create jobs. For businesses in remote areas, once they have broadband, they have direct access to international markets.”

But Deputy Calleary said that while the scheme aims to ensure every home and business across the country will have access to broadband by the end of next year, there was a “gaping hole in this initiative”. “It seems like the scheme only applies to those with no access to any broadband scheme whatsoever. That means the homes and businesses with extremely limited broadband coverage are not eligible to upgrade to a minimum level under the scheme.” He has asked for clarification from Minister Pat Rabbitte. Dep Calleary has also expressed his hope that the new Next Generation Broadband Taskforce will work on setting a national minimum broadband speed so that everyone has access to a top quality service in every part of the country. However, he said the first step was securing a basic standard of internet access for all.

The WDC also agreed that it will be important to ensure as broadband speeds and people’s expectations increase, “that minimum standards increase and that no area is disadvantaged by poor quality broadband. This is true for the individual user starting a business from home, as well as the SME sector and the larger multinationals,” Ms Frost added.

“High quality broadband is rightly recognised as a key element in the knowledge economy and in job creation. Export oriented businesses can and do thrive, regardless of location, as long as they have quality broadband which is competitively priced,” she said.

The WDC has also welcomed the Government’s commitment to next generation broadband and the intention to accelerate the development of high speed broadband. “This recognises the need to improve broadband speeds,” Ms Frost added. “The Next Generation Broadband Task Force should ensure that the needs of rural areas are addressed so that all areas have access to next generation broadband as soon as possible.”

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