Government to review problematic broadband project

The government has announced a review of its €225m infrastructure project to improve broadband services around Ireland after it emerged that there were problems with the initial phase of the project. Village reported last November that the government was to go ahead with the second phase of the €225m project despite several problems with the network.


Under the project, the government is laying fibre-optic cables in 120 towns across Ireland to improve broadband and offer competition in the market. The cables can also be used by mobile-phone operators. The first phase of the project is now complete with 27 metropolitan area networks (MANs) in place at a cost of €85m. The second phase is to cost €140m.

The major problem with the MANs is that they don't connect up to businesses and houses directly. This means that retail providers like Smart and BT must bridge the gap between the MANs cabling and the houses and businesses requiring broadband. The only way to connect the MANs to the houses or businesses is through wireless technology, which is very expensive on an individual basis.

Another problem with the network is that the cables being laid are duplicating existing Eircom broadband infrastructure in towns. In 118 out of the 120 towns that MANs are going into, Eircom has an existing broadband network.

For both of these reasons – and considering that there is not a huge amount of demand for broadband in rural areas – it seems that uptake of the scheme would be small.

The Department of Communications, Marine and Natural Resources has been vague about the role of the scheme. When Village asked the department about the long-term investment for the MANs last year, it said: “the precise role of the MANs in Ireland remains to be seen”.

e-net, the company which is managing the broadband side of the scheme for the government, has said in the past that the project needed to change and more money needs to be invested to maximise its potential. Conal Henry, CEO of e-net, asked the government to modify the design of the MANs and provide extra funding to allow direct connection to buildings.

They also believe that the network cannot be fully utilised without the cooperation of Eircom. At present, four of the 27 MANs already laid have no access to the backhaul network, which is used to provide a link from rural counties back to Dublin. Eircom could provide a solution to this problem by allowing the MANs to connect to their backhaul network.

The government announced that it is to undertake “a value-for-money policy review” on phase one of the project.

In January it was announced that the government will invest a further €435m of the National Development Plan 2007-2013 on broadband and MANs.