Senator Daly: I welcome the Minister. I love this map, but the problem with it is that it lacks ambition. When one looks at the areas it is proposed to cover one notes that if one lives west of the Shannon or west of Cork city, one will not receive high speed broadband any time soon.
In today’s terms broadband is equivalent to what electricity was 50 years ago, in that nobody but the State could provide electricity. Imagine what our economic development would be today if the electricity provision had been at the same level as the ambition of the Government for broadband provision now. High speed and fibre optic broadband is as essential today as electricity was for the development of Ireland 50 years ago. We would not have Google or the other companies that came to this country if we did not invest in our infrastructure. In addition, the Minister is aware of the statistics regarding online purchases and how many Irish people buy online, which is over 60%. However, only approximately 40% of Irish businesses have an online presence.
As my colleague from County Clare is aware, one can work from anywhere in the world if high speed broadband is available. One can trade online as a stock trader or work as an architect, but only if one has high speed broadband. One can live in west Clare or west Kerry if one has it, but it is not available. Theoretically, it is available. There are plenty of offers from upc and other providers who tell us we can get 3G, 4G and high speed broadband up to a certain speed, but that is only under certain conditions – the famous terms and conditions apply.
In addition to the lack of ambition, there is the issue of European clearance and the five stages in the process. That will take too long for people who wish to live in, and work from, rural areas. They simply cannot do so. It is the equivalent of trying to run a factory in rural Ireland without electricity. Not having high speed fibre optic broadband is killing the rural economy and ensuring it does not have the jobs it should or is not retaining jobs. We do not have the infrastructure. It is equivalent to the provision of roads 100 years ago, electricity 50 years ago and the investment in telecommunications by Albert Reynolds and others. Only the State can do it in a real and meaningful way for the places that are not economically viable.
There is no problem with providing broadband in Dublin, because it pays the provider. However, 900,000 homes will not be reached because it is not economically to provide them will high speed broadband. They will get some level of coverage but if one wishes to download a file or run an office from home in a rural area, the infrastructure is not in place. Rural Ireland is suffering enough with Garda stations, schools and shops closing and post offices under massive pressure. Not to have broadband, the modern equivalent of roads and electricity, is costing jobs and preventing us from retaining jobs.
The map demonstrates the lack of ambition. One of the big costs with fibre optic broadband is the installation of the ducting. That was also the huge cost with the electricity infrastructure. There are plenty of schemes in this country. We installed water networks where the State failed to do so. This was done by communities putting in the pipes. The pipes for fibre optic can be installed by communities much more efficiently and better than the Government would do it. Once the ducting is installed, which is 80% of the cost, the Government could then proceed. A scheme similar to the group water schemes could be carried out efficiently. I guarantee that there is such demand for high speed broadband that the communities would ensure it would be done a great deal faster than the EU or anybody else would do it.