Minister publishes paper on broadband

 

MINISTER FOR Communications Eamon Ryan has published the Government’s policy paper on next-generation broadband, which includes input provided by interested parties who attended a forum in Dublin Castle last autumn.

The paper reiterates the Government’s commitment to providing nationwide access to broadband by the end of next year and for speeds to equal or exceed those offered by our European neighbours by 2012.

While the exchequer is contributing €79.8 million towards the €223 million National Broadband Scheme, which will provide access to the 15 per cent of the Republic not currently covered, the paper states a preference for private sector investment in infrastructure.

While recognising the negative investment environment, it says provision of next-generation networks will “be undertaken in the main by the private sector”, but promises appropriate policy tools such as regulation, availability of radio spectrum, and targeted Government action will be used to support investors.

Earlier this year, Eircom told an Oireachtas committee that its next-generation investments were “under review” and it does not know how much it will be able to invest.

The paper reveals a “one-stop shop” is currently being set up which will enable service providers gain access to State-owned infrastructure. This could range from ducting controlled by the National Roads Authority which could be used to run telecoms links to the assets owned by the ESB’s dedicated telecoms subsidiary.

The document also highlights the importance of service providers collaborating on the provision of next-generation networks and highlights how this is being done in other European markets.

Dublin Chamber of Commerce criticised the strategy for focusing on rural areas rather than on providing high-speed broadband.

“The new Government paper sets a target of reaching EU norms in terms of speed within three years, but is decidedly vague as to how this will be achieved,” said Aebhric McGibney, Dublin chamber policy director. “It’s as if Government is disconnected from reality.”

The Association of Licensed Telecommunications Operators said that a timeline for regulatory changes needed to be put in place as investment by its members “will not come about until the market is more conducive to fairer competition”.

Yesterday, Mr Ryan put in train one of the measures outlined in the paper when he published a list of 78 secondary schools that will get a 100 megabytes per second broadband connection.

The initial phase of the project has been costed at €16 million and the service providers will be chosen through a competitive tender process.

The paper also notes that State investment in the Metropolitan Area Networks, which are live in 27 towns and cities, will be guided by the priorities set out in the paper, a value-for-money review of the first phase of the project, and “the availability of resources”. Mr Ryan’s department is set to shortly award the contract for the management of phase two to e-Net.