Over half a million households in rural Ireland are missing out on broadband because of a disastrous privatisation policy.
Up to 1999, the telephone network was run by a state company, Telecom Eireann. But the Fianna Fail government decided to copy Margaret Thatcher and sell it off. Ever since then, disaster has piled on disaster.
Instead of providing long term investment to install broad band, a series of private owners simply asset stripped the company, which had been re-named Eircom.
By October 2010, for example, Ireland was ranked 29 out of 30 countries, ahead only of Mexico for broadband speed. Only a fifth of the population had access on that date.
Yet this disaster presented another opportunity for private companies to further blackmail the government.
Eir, which is the latest name for the company proposed, to charge €20 for every pole that the fibre optic cables would be hung on.
It was also allowed to cherry pick the easiest houses to connect and separate these out the more difficult ones.
The result as that only one private bidder, Enet, was left to negotiate a contract for the last half a million homes. It was actually backed by money from the state’s own Irish Infrastructure Fund which was set to take control of the company.
But suddenly Enet was downgraded to becoming only a supplier to a new consortium, Granahan McCourt. A Denis O Brien controlled company was then discovered to be part of the new consortium. They set about trying to squeeze even more money from the taxpayers for the contract.
Secret meetings between the former Minister for Communication, Denis Naughton, and the company’s chairperson, David McCourt, were all about getting these extra ‘incentives’.
Behind the whole sorry affair is a tale of greed for profit.
If the state retained control of its own telecommunications company, broadband would have been completed by now.
Yet again privatisation has proved a disaster.
We need a state owned company that completes the National Broadband plan in the interests of people – not profit.