Plan to bring broadband to entire country by 2010

 

EVERY PART of the country will have at least a basic broadband package by September 2010 as a result of a €223 million investment which will be part-funded by the State and the European Union.

Minister for Communications Eamon Ryan yesterday revealed details of the National Broadband Scheme (NBS) which will bring broadband internet access to the 10 per cent of the population, spread over about 33 per cent of the geographic area of the State, who cannot get the service.

Mr Ryan described the scheme as “a crucially important development for the infrastructure of this State”. He said the scheme will put Ireland ahead of what other countries in Europe are doing to bring broadband to rural areas. Mobile phone operator 3 Ireland won the tender to provide broadband coverage to the 223,000 homes and commercial premises to be serviced by the scheme.

It will rely primarily on mobile broadband technology running over 3G networks. This will involve the erection of 160 telecoms masts at various sites. These masts will require planning permission – something which, in the past, has been a contentious issue in rural communities. But Robert Finnegan, chief executive of 3 Ireland, said he was confident of completing the scheme within the allotted 21 months.

Mr Finnegan said he was “very confident” his firm had everything in place to meet the requirements of the contract. He pointed out that 3 met the coverage requirements of its 3G licence one year ahead of schedule.

The scheme was first mooted by Mr Ryan’s predecessor, Noel Dempsey, in early 2007 but has been beset by delays including a challenge in the Commercial Court.

Among the first areas to be switched on at the end of April are: Rathmore, Co Kerry, Inistioge, Co Kilkenny and Woodford and Clifden in Co Galway.

Dublin is the only county which will not be served by the NBS. Among the counties to benefit most from the project are Donegal, Galway, Kerry, Leitrim, Mayo, Monaghan, and Wicklow.

An online facility is available at www.three.ie/NBS where addresses can be input to see if they are included.

Initially, the service will guarantee a minimum download speed of 1.2MBits/sec, although premises close to masts should achieve speeds of 5MBits/sec. Speeds will be upgraded twice during the five-year contract. By October 2012, the minimum speed will be 2.3MBits/sec. A small number of premises, no more than 8 per cent of the total, will be served by a satellite connection which will run at slightly slower speeds.

Both the mobile broadband and satellite services will cost €20 a month, with a connection fee of €49 which will cover the cost of all necessary equipment.

3 Ireland says it will create 170 jobs over the course of the five-year contract, both directly and in the companies employed to build the network, which include BT Ireland.

Under the terms of the contract, 3 will have to provide a wholesale version of its service which other firms will then be able to sell on to consumers. Eircom has already expressed an interest in reselling the service.

The scheme was deemed necessary to cover parts of the State serviced by approximately 250 telephone exchanges which Eircom deemed weren’t economically viable to upgrade to broadband.

Other service providers were then asked to submit maps of the parts of these areas in which they provided broadband.

The European Commission has ruled that the NBS does not breach state aid rules by distorting competition.