ICTU Response to Government’s Rural Broadband Plan

Congress notes the Government plans to connect every home, school, farm, and business to the internet through high-speed broad band. The roll-out of the scheme over a period of years will, if realised, have long term benefits for workers, education, and families in rural Ireland.

However, General Secretary of Congress Patricia King said there are many questions hanging over the scheme, some relating to the projected cost of building the network and how much taxpayers will have to subsidise a private consortium to provide a broadband service.

Patricia King said “the Government has pledged that it will take seven years and will cost the State no more than €3billion. Crucially however the amount that the consortium is investing in the project has been redacted in correspondence released this afternoon”.

The Government must clarify how much National Broadband Ireland is investing in the project, which is a private venture capitalist monopoly funded by the taxpayer.

The fact that the Secretary General of the Department of Public Expenditure, Robert Watt has warned that the National Broadband Plan posed “unprecedented risk to the exchequer” should set alarm bells ringing, given the recent experience of the vast cost over-run of the National Children’s Hospital.

The General Secretary added that “the cost of providing rural broadband has increased several times already since original estimates were discussed, now this service is to be subsidised by the State”.

While a government Minister Michael Creed said the plan had been put through “a robust and rigorous assessment” Patricia King said “the public needs to be reassured that the State is getting value for money and that a private monopoly will not hold consumers to ransom and charge what they like when the service is operational”.

The General Secretary also said “considering the vast sums involved the Government must ensure that high-quality labour standards are involved to deliver this project”.

“We also need to ask if taxpayers should be funding a private distribution system that the State will never own and what contractors will charge individual customers at the edges of the distribution network”, said Patricia King.