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Seanad Votes 24 To 19 Against Universal Broadband Provision

Posted on: December 19th, 2007 2 Comments

Last week, I put down the following motion for debate in the Seanad: “That Seanad Éireann deplores the failure of the Government to ensure broadband access in every home and business in Ireland.”

During a heated 2 hour debate, addressed by 2 Ministers, I told the House that I am staggered by the lack of interest, alarm and urgency of Members when confronting the problem of broadband provision. It is an absolutely essential part of the infrastructure of a modern state, and it is disgraceful that we remain at the wrong end of every league table in terms of broadband penetration.

Both Minister Ryan and Minster Killeen heaped praise on themselves for their diabolical performance! Their contributions were defined by smug self-congratulation and complacency. However, we must stop celebrating mediocrity and solve this deficit as a matter of urgency. Here are some highlights from the debate:

Lest the Minister thinks I am being alarmist, I will quote Mr. John McElligott, head of eBay in this country. It is a very important company in terms of hi-tech, broadband and multinationals and Mr. McElligott has done something which chief executives of most multinationals in this area will not do. He has put his head a bit above the parapet and has said some pretty alarming things in recent weeks. He has said he is embarrassed about our connectivity problems

He says that our broadband situation is affecting inward foreign direct investment and will continue to do so. We ignore that sort of warning from someone at the coalface at our peril. The Minister should listen to Mr. McElligott and bodies like the Irish Internet Association.

There is a mindset in this House and among the Government and Civil Service that broadband somehow can be put on the back burner. I wish the Minister of State would give us a commitment tonight that within a very short period of time, he will not blame Eircom for not unbundling the loop, because that is disgraceful, but make it unbundle it. He should not blame someone else. The buck stops with the Minister. If Eircom is dragging its feet, let us get it to stop.

This is a case for Government interference and subsidy, if necessary, and for the Government to insist that every house and business in Ireland automatically has access to broadband. If it costs money, use it. The Government spends enough money on roads, railways and air services. This is just as vital. Let the Minister give us a commitment that, within a very short period of time, every house and business in Ireland will clearly have the access to broadband which is essential if we are to be a modern and vibrant economy.

Unfortunately, my motion was defeated by 24 votes to 19. To see the full text of the debate, including the responses of Ministers Eamon Ryan and Tony Killeen, click here.