A few years ago, the Irish Government decided that every single house in Ireland should get a minimum of 30 Mbit/s of broadband connection. It is a totally crazy idea (and I will explain why) and it didn’t go too smooth yet with delay after delay. A shortlist of companies that wanted to submit a bid to deliver that National Broadband Plan (NBP) was created already in 2016, but not too much happened. This year now the tender document was meant to be issued so that the shortlisted companies can prepare their proposals.
Two companies (Imagine and Gigabit Ethernet) didn’t make it on the shortlist and from three shortlisted companies (Eir, Enet and Siro), Siro (an ESB and Vodafone cooperation) already last year pulled out, which only left Eir and Enet on the list. This week Eir also declared that they are not interested any further and that just leaves Enet. A tender process still has to happen, but with just one bidder, it is virtually certain that Enet will win (as long as they fulfill all criteria). And it also means that Enet will be able to charge nearly whatever they want and the government will have to pay it. But that means YOU and I are paying it!
So that NBP process is already broken and can’t be fixed anymore. Abandoning the whole plan and starting from fresh should be the ONLY option!
How did it come to that mess?
It all started with the nonsensical promise of 30 Mbit/s to every house in Dublin. That is a stupid promise for soooo many reasons. Firstly, it assumes that the broadband service is NEEDED for something. Decades earlier a Universal Service Obligation (USO) forced Telecom Eireann (now Eir) to provide a landline to every house in the country no matter what the cost would be. At the time Telecom Eireann was owned by the government and a landline was seen as a requirement for people who lived in the middle of nowhere to stay in touch and to be able to notify emergency services if something happened. The price was high! Tax payers paid thousands to reach remote houses and it was never the house owner that had to pay, but he/she paid the same as someone in the City Centre where phone lines would be just a few metres away.
The successor to landline services are now broadband services and people living in the middle of nowhere therefore expect that they should now get broadband services for NO extra price. But imagine this scenario: You decide (free choice!) to live in the remotest place in Co. Kerry and you came up with the genius idea that setting up a haulage/transport company for customers on the East Coast of Ireland is the perfect business for you. The streets are not great where you live, but because you decided that trucks need to get to you FAST, you now demand from the government that they will build a motorway to your company. Imagine! Everybody would say you are crazy to expect that and that you chose the wrong place for your company. No taxpayer would agree to pay for essentially a private motor way to you.
If it is a ridiculous idea to build a HUGE road to the remotest place, why is it not a ridiculous idea to build broadband services to the remotest places? Sure if people want to pay the full price for it, they can have it. But to expect that all the other taxpayers will pay for their choice to live far away from infrastructure doesn’t seem to make sense. Right?
Now, we are not unreasonable people, so let’s give them SOME Internet connection. They should also be allowed to order their goods from Amazon of Bookdepository if they want, sending and receiving e-mails is also ok and checking the news on a website is perfectly fine too. But uploading or downloading huge files or Netflix streaming is really not a basic requirement to live!
It could be a requirement for a company, though. but that brings me back to the motorway example: If you need extraordinary infrastructure you either need to pay for it in full or need to go where the infrastructure can be provided in an economically feasible way.
Because you are MUCH nicer and more caring than I am, you probably are now wondering how many houses and businesses we are talking about. I am glad you asked! It is around 900,000 (!) connections that were originally in that National Broadband Plan. That’s a lot of subsidised connections!!
But then something important happened: When all these delays happened, the mobile phone companies, Imagine and Eir grabbed the opportunity and as fast as lightning (they are usually MUCH slower) they built infrastructure to the easy reachable customers. So now more than 300,000 easy reachable customers are already with services and with the low hanging fruit gone, the remaining 500k-600k connections are the ones that nobody really wants because you can’t build a business on that basis.
And suddenly Eir’s withdrawal from the shortlist makes sooo much sense. They don’t want the scraps, the left-overs, the bottom of the barrel. In addition Eir knows, that if Enet wins the contract, Enet will HAVE to use Eir infrastructure to reach these 500,000, so Eir wins ANYWAY. Smart, right!?
So why does the government not stop that silly National Broadband Plan? Because the 500k connections could be around 1mio voters! In addition they seem to think that Ireland depends on the small businesses in the middle of nowhere to remain competitive in the European/international market.
And what would make sense? It would be necessary to draw lines! That means that not EVERYONE will get broadband, but if you live to far away from a city or at least town, then you are on your own! Then the promised/guaranteed bandwidth should be reduced to what is needed, not what would be nice to have. (Nobody NEEDS 30 Mbit/s!) And finally, the National Broadband Plan should be re-started because one really important way to reach any remote locations is via mobile phone data services, so mobile phone service providers HAVE to get involved and the government has to entice them enough to get involved.