The National Broadband Plan can make Ireland the “gold standard for the world to look at” in terms of rural rejuvenation.
In a bonus episode of Tech Talk with Jess Kelly, the chair of the company rolling out the rural broadband network said Ireland can “lead the world” in addressing the rural talent drain.
National Broadband Ireland Chairman David McCourt talked to Jess after the O’Connor family in County Cork became the first family to be hooked up to the network.
“This is the first actual customer that’s being connected to the network,” he said.
“We went from basically a standstill to 800 people working across 26 counties. We’ve surveyed 158,000 premises, which is the critical first step involved in any rollout. That involves physically walking the route.
“We’re putting in enough fibre to go around the world four times.”
He said the plan is “probably the most ambitious telecoms project in the world.”
“It showed real ambition by the Government to see it through all these controversies and delays,” he said.
“You can understand how some people and retail providers maybe had a different view of what it meant… maybe they had a view that was different when the programme was being designed to be rolled out.
“Now that it’s rolled out, they’re all on board.
“When the project started, we were contractually obligated to deliver 150 megabits - now we’re delivering 500 megabits. That’s a minimum speed, from day one.”
Mr McCourt said he hopes the plan will rejuvenate rural Ireland.
“I want to see jobs created, and I want to see jobs saved,” he said. “I believe the urban-rural divide can end, and Ireland can be the gold standard for the world to look at.
“Ireland has the chance to lead the world in demonstrating how they can stop that migration to urban, turn it around, and let people live where they want to live.”
The Irish-American entrepreneur said the COVID-19 crisis has highlighted the importance of high-speed broadband access – and accelerated the rollout of the new plan to schools around the country.
“We’ll be wiring up approximately 680 schools by the end of next year. We’ve brought that forward a couple of years because it’s so critical,” he said.
“I also think the by-product of COVID - which is that people have to stay home - has shown that maybe people don’t want to commute an hour each way, or 45 minutes each way,” he said.
“Maybe they don’t want to be spending that expense on their car, contributing in a negative way to the environment by being on the roads all the time.”
He said the change will breathe new life into villages right around the country.
“All that stuff that makes it fun to live in a village… I think a lot of that is going to come back now,” he said.
“Broadband is part of it and the reaction to COVID is part of it. I think it was just time for that change from rural to urban to be rebalanced.”
Mr McCourt said he remains hopeful that the plan will be delivered on time and on budget but admitted the pandemic has impacted on the rollout.
“Our designers can work from home - we managed through that. People that can work in a crew - like surveyors… they can work in one-man or one-woman crews.
“The areas that get affected are where, because of health and safety, you need to work in groups - that would be pulling cables, climbing poles, on a ladder or in a manhole. In the areas where we have to work in groups, of course it has hurt us and slowed us up.”
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