National Broadband Plan descends into utter farce

IrelandOffline expresses concern over the future of the National Broadband Plan

A few short weeks ago An Taoiseach (1) appointed Denis Naughten as Minister for Communications while at the same time he said that the responsibility for delivering the National Broadband Plan, together with the specialised NBP procurement team, was moving over to that Department with the really long name headed by Heather Humphreys.

Today Minister Denis Naughten basically announced he was taking it back. Would someone actually take charge and please tell us what the hell is going on here? If this the ‘Rural Alliance’ ‘4G Interim Fix Proposal’ again then stop this right now Denis before it gets far too messy.

“Minister Naughten noted that under the new Programme for a Partnership Government, the weight of two Departments is being brought to bear on the Plan. Under new arrangements, the Department of Communications, Climate Change and Natural Resources will continue with the procurement for a high speed telecoms network, and will develop proposals for an entity to manage all of the State’s Broadband contracts.

Minister Humphreys will be responsible for ensuring that rollout can be delivered quickly once contract(s) are in place. Minister Naughten noted that this twin-track approach will include two important new initiatives:

What was said
1. The experience and resources of the new Department of Regional Development, Rural Affairs, Arts and the Gaeltacht will be brought to bear on the Plan. Minister Heather Humphreys will lead on the establishment of county or regional broadband taskforces and work with local authorities, Local Enterprise Offices, LEADER Groups and other relevant agencies to help accelerate the broadband network build in rural Ireland.

2. A national mobile phone and broadband taskforce will be established which will consider immediate measures to alleviate broadband and mobile phone service deficits which are frustrating communities and businesses across rural Ireland.

I think we can declare point 1 to be a dead duck, and point 2 is also a dead duck as the formation of such a taskforce guarantees us nothing more than deadlock. The main danger of an initiative like this is that this “temporary little measure” will become more permanent to the detriment of the real and absolutely necessary NBP. However all this does seemingly mean that Denis Naughten is now in charge of the important bits like his predecessor was.

One possible ‘4g taskforce’ measure is to rapidly filch 20mhz off RTE in the 700mhz band and to ‘interimly’ licence it with a 100% outdoor coverage condition pending the full 700mhz band clearance expected later this decade, however this will only provide voice and text coverage, albeit a lot more usefully than the current 4g licence will. Such an interim measure should not, however, be conflated with Broadband provision. And this is at the mercy of Comreg who could easily spend 2 years in consultation mode alone the way they are allowed to mess around.

The only useful potential input from Minister Humphreys will be to tell her NPWS to cop themselves on and not serially obstruct the rollout phase as only they sometimes can.

(1) Oh Yes He Did “There will be a new Department of Regional Development, Rural Affairs, Arts & the Gaeltacht. This will retain all of the functions of the former Department of Arts, Heritage and the Gaeltacht. It will also be assigned responsibility for the rollout of rural broadband” .

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