The three billion euro National Broadband Plan will be the biggest investment in the Republic of Ireland since rural electrification, the Taoiseach has said.
The Cabinet approved the proposal to sign the National Broadband Plan contract in Co Wicklow on Tuesday.
The rollout of high-speed broadband to more than half a million homes throughout the Republic of Ireland will begin in January.
However, it could take up to seven years before every home and business gets high-speed broadband under the plan.
The European Commission has been investigating whether the Government spend on the plan breached European Union state aid rules, which restrict national investment in services offered by private ventures.
The project has faced controversy, delays and setbacks which seen a number of firms pulling out of the bidding for the contract.
Opposition parties have also called for the broadband network to publicly owned, as the state is investing such a significant amount in the project.
Leo Varadkar said: “It is the biggest investment in rural Ireland ever and the most significant since rural electrification.”
“An average of over 100 million euro in every local authority in the country” is to be invested in the infrastructural project, he added.
Initially 300 broadband connection points will be set up in community settings such as GAA clubs, community centres and public libraries.
These hubs will provide free high-speed broadband to people living in rural areas until broadband is delivered to their homes.
Mr Varadkar referred to the case of a young girl with an interest in coding who had to go to the carpark of her local supermarket to pick up Wi-Fi as it was so poor in her own home.
Hereâs the breakdown of investment per county under the National Broadband Plan. pic.twitter.com/iYm2ViXd33— Leo Varadkar (@LeoVaradkar) November 19, 2019
“Poor internet is not unique to rural parts of Ireland and indeed Dublin,” he said.
He said the provision of quality broadband across the state will mean “rural Ireland has a 21st-century future”.
“This is a national solution to a national problem. Today’s plan means that every business, every home and school across Ireland will receive high-speed broadband and benefit from the opportunities that digital technology provides.
Tanaiste Simon Coveney said the plan will enable young people to stay in the Republic of Ireland and work remotely instead of having to emigrate.
“Without this plan, we could see depopulation in parts of Ireland where young people will simply refuse to live, because they can’t access the kind of information flow that allows them to develop their careers and to live normal lives.
“If you look at where our culture is moving, we will need high-speed information flow into homes, and foreign businesses to be able to make sustainable strategic decisions in the future in terms of how to run a business.”
Mr Coveney compared the arguments against the rollout of broadband to those made against rural electrification in the 20th century.
“This is an investment in the future that is as significant as decisions that were made during rural electrification when some people were making the argument, maybe we can’t afford to do it at that pace and that maybe we should do it in phases.
“Maybe we should just allow certain communities who have chosen to live in isolated rural parts of the country to face the consequence of that isolation, and we’ll get to them in time when we can afford.
“That is the argument that some people are making an argument that sounds ridiculous. Today, in the context of access to electricity or access to water or other essential public services. And so, broadband is in that category,” he said.