AFTER YEARS of government promises to provide businesses and the general public with a world quality broadband service, Minister for Communications Pat Rabbitte has unveiled another “leap forward” towards that objective. Frustrated citizens could hardly be blamed for expressing scepticism about the initiative, particularly as funding and administrative details have yet to be worked out and the deadline for delivery is 2015. But some relief will be felt that action is finally being taken on pre-election commitments.
Mr Rabbitte has undertaken to provide €175 million in Government funding to deliver broadband speeds in excess of 30 megabits to users who live in areas not regarded as commercial. A further €175 million is to be invested by commercial telecom providers to upgrade their services in terms of speed and connectivity. Legislation will be introduced to hasten the planning process, place limits on fees and charges and provide access to State-owned infrastructure on a commercial basis. In the interim, consultations with the six main broadband companies will identify those parts of the country they will serve in order to avoid overlaps in investment.
It sounds reasonable. But so did undertakings by previous governments. A lack of investment and follow-through on those occasions has bequeathed the State one of the slowest and most expensive download speeds in the EU. Irish connectivity may be somewhat average, but there is a heavy reliance on mobile broadband with slow delivery speeds and only a quarter of services are through fibre cables. Ireland was placed 24th out of 27 EU countries in a recent survey. There are hints of change. Ireland led other EU countries in the area of eGovernment. And both Fine Gael and Labour Party Ministers are committed to improving broadband speeds and reducing costs .
The European Commission has warned member states they are falling behind in terms of investment in broadband technology. It noted that 50 per cent of the EU labour force did not have sufficient computer skills to change or to find new jobs. And, in the case of Ireland, it found that a majority of small and medium sized businesses neither shopped nor sold their products on line, thereby limiting export and revenue potential.
These are serious economic weaknesses that will have to be addressed through a range of Government measures. A roll-out of high-speed broadband services at lower prices would make a good start.