Ireland below EU broadband average due to rural deficit

19 Mar 2008

Ireland’s continuing failure to address the lack of broadband in rural areas has meant the country narrowly failed to surpass the EU average of 20pc, despite recording the fourth-highest broadband penetration growth in the EU.

The European Commission’s 13th Progress Report on the Single Telecoms Market found that broadband penetration grew by five percentage points to reach 17.4pc, at 14th place in EU rankings. Top position went to Denmark, which has a population penetration of 35.6pc.

The report found that at least eight member states in the European Union now have broadband deployment ahead of the US at 22pc. Europe’s broadband industry brought in revenues of €64bn in 2007 with 19 million broadband lines added – equal to 50,000 households a day.

The EU said Ireland’s failure to breach the 20pc mark was partly due to the continuing low coverage of broadband in rural areas.

2007, it says, was a year of considerable telecoms reform in Ireland with fixed operators preparing for next-generation networks, a new framework for digital TV, as well as the market being bolstered by enhanced enforcement powers for the national regulator, ComReg.

The European Commission noted that competition in the Irish broadband market became more dynamic in 2007 due to the widespread take-up of mobile and wireless broadband and attractive fixed broadband rates.

Mobile penetration in Ireland reached 117pc by October 2007. Market shares by the four operators Vodafone, O2, Meteor and 3 were 43pc, 39pc, 14pc and 3pc respectively. All are now licensed to deploy 3G services.

In the departments where Ireland could do better, the Commission said the country is still in catch-up mode on broadband, with a particular emphasis on the countryside where DSL only covers 64pc of the population, compared to 86pc nationally.

The Commission also pointed out that wholesale mobile number portability charges are amongst the highest in the EU with some as high as €20. Some one million mobile numbers had been ported by June last year, compared with 690,000 a year earlier.

The EU’s telecoms commissioner, Viviane Reding, said that the European regulatory model’s aim to increase competition in the telecoms market is paying dividends.

“However, the job is not yet done,” she said. “Competition is limited for access to the fixed network, which is still provided to 86.5pc of customers over the incumbent’s infrastructure. In addition, though telecoms technologies know no borders, only 30pc of major operators’ EU business is outside their home market.

“This shows we still lack an attractive single market for businesses and services of European dimensions, so we must intensify our efforts to reduce the regulatory borders in Europe.

“Only by opening up the single market for business will Europe become competitive and will consumers benefit from a wide choice of rich and affordable services,” Reding said.

By John Kennedy