Ireland’s broadband penetration rate now stands at 6.4pc of the population compared with 1.6pc in mid-2004, the Minister for Communications, Marine and Natural Resources Noel Dempsey TD told siliconrepublic.com. He said the current rate of take-up for broadband is in the region of 10,000 per month and is continuing to grow.
Responding to questions posed by siliconrepublic.com, Dempsey said that the low take-up of broadband ” a bone of contention amongst proponents of the technology as well as businesses and individuals outside of areas currently served by broadband ” reflected the late launch of competitive, affordable broadband by private service providers in Ireland and the weak nature of broadband infrastructure competition.
“However, the situation is improving rapidly,” he added. “The broadband industry in Ireland is experiencing particularly strong growth and the launch of new services indicates that it is an attractive market from an investor perspective.”
He continued: “In late 2004, the Government set a target for industry of 400,000 broadband subscribers to be achieved by the end of 2006. Subsequently, broadband subscriber numbers have almost doubled. The latest Quarterly Data Report from ComReg [Commission for Communications Regulation] on broadband delivery rates indicate that broadband subscriptions have grown by 19pc over three months as of September 2005 and stand at 208,000. The estimated end-December 2005 figure for broadband subscribers is approximately 250,000.”
Acknowledging the threats low PC and broadband penetration could pose to Ireland’s long-term competitiveness, Dempsey outlined several major development programmes undertaken by the Government, including the rollout of carrier-neutral metropolitan area networks (MANs) in 120 towns and cities across Ireland.
Phase one of this programme has so far delivered fibre optic networks to 27 towns and cities throughout the country. This programme has been extended to a further 90 towns in various locations nationwide and these MANs are due for completion during 2006 and 2007. These networks will allow the private sector to offer world-class broadband services at competitive costs.
“A joint industry-Government fund of €18m has been established for the Broadband for Schools Programme, which will provide every school in the country with broadband by the first half of 2006. The construction/installation phase is now underway, and the project is on target for completion within the set timeframe,” Dempsey explained.
Despite the negative publicity surrounding Ireland’s slow broadband rollout, Dempsey pointed to aspects to Ireland’s situation that weren’t being publicised. “We are the lowest-cost country in the OECD for international connectivity, our regional broadband pricing is now on a par with the best in Europe and the price of basic broadband access is at the EU average. Furthermore, Ireland is now one of the cheapest locations in the world for international leased lines.”
Despite the gathering momentum in terms of supply, particularly through the arrival of new products and prices, Dempsey said that there are still side issues in terms of public demand for broadband that “require focused attention”.
He pointed to a discussion paper recently published on his department’s website that suggested 17pc of Ireland’s potential broadband market has been addressed. A public consultation on the demand issue is currently underway and called for submissions and comments to be submitted to email@example.com by Wednesday 1 March.
Responding to the suggestion of a digital divide in Ireland, Dempsey said: “We do not believe that anything in Ireland exists that could be termed a ‘digital divide’. However, naturally infrastructural development tends to occur in urban areas before it spreads to rural areas. The Government deemed that, given the importance of broadband, this delay suffered by rural areas was unacceptable and so the Department of Communications, Marine and Natural Resources developed the County and Group Broadband Scheme.
“This scheme offers funding assistance for smaller towns and rural communities to become self sufficient in broadband through the County and Group Broadband Scheme. The scheme is technology-neutral, allowing the community to select the most suitable broadband-delivery platform for the area. To date, more than 150 projects have been approved for funding, covering more than 450 communities under this programme,” Dempsey said.
By John Kennedy