New broadband plan sets low bar on download speeds

Low bar may be a deliberate way of ensuring a competitive tender process

Does 30mbps spec  send the right signal in a State that wants to tout itself as a tech hub? Photograph: Andrew Matthews/PA Wire

Does 30mbps spec send the right signal in a State that wants to tout itself as a tech hub? Photograph: Andrew Matthews/PA Wire

 

Earlier this year, US telecoms watchdog FCC, their Comreg, decided speeds of less than 25 megabits per second (mbps) no longer fitted the definition broadband.

With 4G and fibre broadband fast becoming the benchmarks, the redefinition was intended to put those who peddle lesser speeds and services under the “broadband” heading to shame.

This seems to have gone over the heads of officials here, who this week published a plan to hook rural Ireland to “high-speed” broadband.

The Department of Communications’ draft strategy specifies an alarmingly unambitious 30mbps as the minimum criterion for private operators wishing to bid for all or part of the project.

The low bar may be a deliberate way of ensuring a competitive tender process. But does the 30mbps spec really send the right signal in a State that wants to tout itself as a tech hub?

With more than 750,000 homes and premises outside the range of commercial operators, the task is difficult but vital to ensure rural Ireland is not left behind.

When the first national broadband plan was being formulated prior to 2008, stakeholders who campaigned for minimum speeds of 25mbps were derided as too ambitious. Now here we are only a few short years later having to spend more to bridge an even greater digital divide.

As a priority, the new plan needs to be future-proofed against immediate obsolescence, unlike the last one. With speeds of up to 1gbps (1,000mbps) fast becoming a reality on foot of soaring demand for better online services capable of streaming high-definition video, 30mbps looks positively stone age.

Whatever model of public-private partnership the department eventually opts for, it is bound to be controversial given the shaky public finances.

It seems, however, to be leaning towards the commercial stimulus option, which would see it fund part of the roll-out costs of the new infrastructure.

“For technical, commercial and financial reasons the commercial stimulus option appears to be the optimal proposal,” the department said.

A concession model that would see the infrastructure revert to State ownership after an agreed timeframe, however, might be an easier sell politically.

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