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Internet plan out of this world

Wednesday, 15th May, 2019 5:09pm

An ambitious plan to bring high-speed internet to anyone in the world could be set to save the Government almost €3 billion.

That’s according to Cork business owner Jerry Sweeney, who has said an international company’s launch of new broadband satellites could be the first step towards connecting the world, removing the need for Ireland’s €3 billion National Broadband Plan.

US firm SpaceX was set to launch 60 of its ‘Starlink’ broadband satellites in the early hours of Thursday morning. It forms part of a plan by the company’s founder Elon Musk to launch over 12,000 low-earth-orbit (LEO) Starlink satellites, which could provide cheap internet access around the world.

Jerry, the Managing Director of Cork Internet eXchange, said if the launch works, it would mean there would be no need for the Government’s National Broadband Plan (NBP), which was agreed last week by the Cabinet.

“Fibre is the Rolls Royce of internet, no one is disputing that. The question is do we have to deliver a Rolls-Royce car to everywhere, at the taxpayer’s expense?” he told the Cork Independent.

“If the NBP was canned tomorrow, open eir, SIRO and all the providers would go out and install more fibre, investment would start in the way that it hasn’t in the years since the NBP was announced.

“I understand that it is not worthwhile for any service provider to supply decent connectivity to someone who lives up the boreen in the back of nowhere. But it’s not that satellites are going to become the broadband provider in Ireland, but they will deliver it to one house at the end of the boreen. So they take away the need for the Government to be involved at all.”

Each LEO satellite weighs approximately 227 kilograms, takes roughly 100 minutes to travel around the earth and is capable of delivering faster connectivity due to its lower flying height. While Musk has said 12 more 60-satellite launches would be needed for moderate connectivity, Jerry claimed that if SpaceX, as well as two other leading projects by Amazon’s Jeff Bezos and OneWeb, carrys out its plans, there could be 40 satellites above Ireland this time next year, and 1,000 in the next eight years.

“The SpaceX plan is a risk, but if it works it is the dawning of a new age for the planet, and will be one of the most equalizing technologies in that it will bring broadband to every human on the planet.”

Saying the Government had its “eye off the ball” having not considered satellite broadband, he added: “The Irish Government is about to enter into a 25-year contract to build an asset for nearly €3 billion that is no longer required. I don’t believe they should spend money delivering a Rolls Royce service to every citizen, money that could be better spent on hospitals, homes etc.”

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