The Irish government today postponed a key decision on the country's national broadband plan, further delaying deployment of a program originally scheduled for completion by the end of 2020. It has not yet begun.
Like many countries, Ireland's major cities are well-served by competitive operators that use a mix of fiber-based fixed broadband, LTE, Gfast and fiber for MDUs. Rural regions, however, have a different connectivity reality. In many cases, the cost versus return of sparsely populated areas and rugged cable-unfriendly terrains of the Irish countryside are prohibitive for many of the nation's leading fiber service providers.
In November 2018, the government seemed close to a deal, promising to agree to a plan "within weeks." When that never materialized, government officials then pledged to share a deal "before Easter." With that holiday falling this weekend -- and broadband not a planned topic of discussion in the sole session left between then and now -- it's unlikely government will meet this promise.
Cost of delays
Originally, five operators -- including Eir and Siro, a joint venture between Vodafone and ESB -- vied for a contract to design, deploy and maintain the fiber optic infrastructure crisscrossing Ireland. Since 2015, however, that number has dwindled and only one remains. That solo bidder is Granahan McCourt, which plans to create a group of sub-contractors to build the network. Energy conglomerate SSE had teamed with the US-based investment firm, but pulled out of the consortium in July 2018. Now the investment firm stands alone, presumably until it amasses operator subs upon granting of a contract.
The deal will cost Irish taxpayers at least €3 billion, according to opposition party Fianna Fáil's Timmy Dooley. Leaders of the party (which means Soldiers of Destiny or Warriors of Fáil) suggest the state-owned Electricity Supply Board as an alternative infrastructure provider. Indeed, ESB offers dark fiber in Dublin via its ESB Telecoms subsidiary. In partnership with Zayo, it also owns and operates a 116-kilometer (72-mile) subsea dark fiber route between Ireland and the UK, and provides other traditional telecom offerings such as managed services, towers and carrier Ethernet.
These capabilities make ESB an attractive solution to Ireland's rural-broadband problem, Dooley said.
In 2018 and 2017, 89% of Irish households had Internet access up from 87% in 2015, according to the Central Statistics Office.
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