EU’s new broadband targets make Ireland’s look pedestrian

Regulators want all EU households to have access to superfast broadband inside 10 years

Regulators in Brussels want every household in the bloc to have access to superfast broadband within a decade. By superfast, they mean internet connection speeds of 100 megabits per second (mbps), which is significantly faster than the 30mbps target laid down in the Government's National Broadband Plan (NBP).

The aspiration will be announced by the European Commission as part of a revamped broadband agenda next month, but elements of the plan have already been leaked to the media.

Copper infrastructure

The upgraded target will be extremely difficult to deliver with the copper infrastructures that still predominate here and elsewhere.

Companies boast of connecting millions of users to the new fibre products, but in reality very few homes are directly connected. For the last hop – from the street cabinet to the customer’s home – operators are still reliant on the existing copper network, which is in various states of disrepair following decades of underinvestment.

And that slows speeds right down.

In a recent interview with The Irish Times, Eir boss Richard Moat admitted the company had connected only 34,000 homes directly to its new fibre technology. Figures from regulator Comreg also reveal that barely 10,000 customers have opted to utilise these connections even when available.

Gigabit society

As part of its plan, Brussels is also expected to review EU state aid rules in a bid to promote more public investment in the so-called “gigabit society”. This could also pose issues for the Government’s plan, which is entering the final stages of procurement.

To get clearance for state aid, the Department of Communications will have to demonstrate to Brussels that the technology being invested in is significantly better than what is currently available.

Brussels has strict rules around state aid and the 30mbps crystallised in the Irish plan may soon look somewhat ordinary in the context of the EU’s new targets.

The NBP’s predecessor, begun in 2009, delivered a basic download speed of 1.2mbps to 250,000 homes but was obsolete even before its completion.

That said, the 30mbps target is not an average but a minimum, and it would put rural Ireland on a stronger digital footing than most of rural Europe.