It is entirely reasonable for government to provide Broadband to rural homes. The Water Charges debacle makes it even more so. Rural dwellers with their own well and septic tanks are paying towards water services for everybody else without getting any benefit. In Trump fashion, a bit of ‘Quid Pro Quo’ is fair.
The provision of rural broadband will be transformational. Comparisons can be made with rural electrification. The big difference this time though is that we won’t own any of this network when we have finished paying for it. Imagine if some private company had owned our electricity network all these years? How much would we be paying now? How much less would electricity network workers be getting paid? How much more of our money would have left the state? Noel Grealish had it wrong when he questioned foreign nationals sending money home. The real scandal is our government giving our money away to private companies.
The case the government is making in favour of their plans is roughly that through regulation they will be able to exert control over the broadband network and the charges that are made to customers. They also believe that the state will make savings by not having to maintain and upgrade the network over time. The private company that owns it will have to do that. The bit they are missing is that this private company is likely to make a very large profit while doing so. A profit that the state is giving up the opportunity to make for its citizens.
The broadband network owner will have a board and shareholders. It will only make decisions that benefit its shareholders. They will not be operating for the public good. If a regulator sets the rates too low in the future then they simply won’t provide the expensive upgrades. No amount of regulation will be able to compel them to do so.
Our government is the shareholder of a number of very profitable semi state companies. This has led to decent employment and the provision of electricity, bus services and air services around the country. It has led to large regular dividend payments being made to the state. Our government hasn’t maximised these benefits though. They have set up regulators and allowed them to enrich private operators in the name of competition. Regulation of our semi state companies has been a means of passing off responsibility and blame.
There is absolutely a need to ensure our state owned companies run efficiently but there is absolutely no need to give all the profits away. Private companies don’t make this mistake. Our government seems to be assuming that they will.
The national Broadband plan will make a small number of people rich at a time when many of our citizens are resigned to never owning a home. It will allow profits made on the backs of rural dwellers to be taken out of the country. This government is operating a flawed ideology. Private is not always better. Handing over control of what they themselves call vital infrastructure is not in the national interest. The E.S.B. could have stepped in. The profits could have been kept at home. At a time when there is huge employment loss in Bord na Mona the E.S.B. could have provided more quality employment and the state could have looked forward to larger dividends going forward.
The signing of this deal is a sad day for Ireland. It is an indictment on the state of our politics. We have a minority government that has just given away over 3 Billion euros without Dail approval. The largest party of ‘opposition’, Fianna Fáil are opposed to this plan but is more interested in delaying an election to better their chances of power than they are in stopping it. There will be many crocodile tears.
As a country we managed to get through a bail out without selling the family silver. We kept the most important infrastructure and semi states. It’s heartbreaking to see us voluntarily hand it away now.
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