What Does eir’s Broadband Expansion Mean for Rural Ireland?
Mark Whelan
Staff Writer

Eir has revealed the locations of another 100,000 homes that are due to get access to its superfast fibre broadband. We look at what this means for all of rural Ireland and the Government's National Broadband Plan.

The European Commission’s ‘Digital Scoreboard’ was published last month and it made for some interesting reading.

It’s a bit like the report card you got at the end of every term in secondary school to tell your parents how you’re getting on. So, how is Ireland getting on?

While we got the equivalent of an ‘A+’ for our use of technology at work, we got a big fat ‘F’ in terms of broadband access.

To be precise, we sit in 20th place out of 28 EU member states, and this poor showing is largely down to the lack of adequate broadband in many parts of rural Ireland.

In fact, just 8% of rural Ireland has access to what is deemed fast broadband, according to the European Commission. This is well below the EU average for broadband coverage, which currently stands at 25%.

When Will Rural Ireland Get Good Broadband?

There is a double-dose of Healy-Rae in the Dáil now, but I’m afraid it’ll take a bit more than that pair to get rural Kerry and the rest of broadband-bare Ireland up to speed.

Enter eir!

When the country’s biggest telecoms company re-branded last September, it made a bold commitment; to equip 1.6 million homes with broadband access by 2020. And not just any broadband, superfast fibre-to-the-home broadband! The company even updated its target to 1.9 million homes just a few weeks ago.

In September, 15 rural communities, including Greystones, Tralee and Drogheda, got a taste of 1 Gbps broadband speeds from eir. And this week, the company has revealed the locations of the next 100,000 homes to be given access to this never-before-seen speed.

The homes are spread across 200 different rural communities, and no county will be neglected. From Spiddal in the west to Ballboughal in the east, and from Falcarragh in the north to Dingle in the south, eir’s fibre footprint will spread far and wide.

The new connections will be rolled out over the next 12 months and eir has already started work by trimming hedges to make way for its incoming fibre cables.

These cables are made up of strands of glass, each about as thin as a human hair, and use infrared lasers to transmit digital data. Significantly, in many areas, eir’s fibre cables will connect directly to the homes in Ireland’s communities, as opposed to the junction boxes on the street, which can often result in a reduction in connection speed.

Where Does this Leave the National Broadband Plan?

The National Broadband Plan is the Government’s answer to rural Ireland’s broadband problems.

The NBP is aiming to equip 750,000 households and businesses in rural Ireland with speeds of over 30 Mbps by 2020, and at least 10 commercial providers have bid, or are preparing to bid, for the lucrative tender.

But eir’s advancement into many of the areas that are scheduled to be covered by the NBP creates a problem.

You see, under EU law, state funds can’t be used to service an area in which commercial providers are present. So, as eir gobbles up different rural communities with its 1 Gbps broadband, the NBP is excluded from moving in.

And this could make the NBP contract less valuable to bidders and ultimately create confusion.

Time Will Tell

It remains to be seen whether or not eir or the National Broadband Plan will reach their targets of equipping rural Ireland with adequate broadband by 2020. But with the two projects essentially racing against eachother to fix this important issue, households that are yet to be touched by modern broadband can have more belief than ever before that they’re finally going to be brought up to speed.