Communications minister Dermot Ahern TD has claimed that broadband usage in Ireland has tripled in the six months following the introduction of his various initiatives in driving down prices and improving competition with more than 100,000 people using broadband and flat rate internet access services. He also called for more co-operation between EU ministers in combating soaring levels of spam.
Addressing the EU Council of Telecommunications Ministers in Brussels, Ahern said that some 60,000 people are accessing flat rate services, compared with 30,000 in October 2003 and that some 42,000 people are accessing broadband services, compared with 13,000 in October 2003.
Ahern said that there has been a 33pc weekly increase since broadband packages of €40 per month were introduced and argued that if prices continued to fall there would be an even greater take-up.
“I have argued for some time that once the price was right the Irish consumer would bite. As prices have tumbled, the consumer has upgraded either to flat rate or broadband. I believe with increasing competition on broadband, the numbers opting for high speed will continue to show dramatic increases.
“The Government has invested heavily in broadband. Last year and this year we are spending €65m on the 19 towns metro rings fibre project which will bring high speed connectivity in central networks running through towns and cities. We are also going to deliver broadband to every town of 1,500 people or more. At the weekend I announced details of the €25m Group Broadband Scheme for smaller towns, villages and rural communities. We have also struck an €18m deal with industry to bring broadband to all 4,100 primary and secondary schools commencing this year with industry funding the bulk of this.
“In addition, we have seen new backhaul rollout, particularly that from ESB and ESAT BT which has significantly cut access costs to the regions, linking international hubs with the Metro rings,” Minister Ahern said.
Looking at the ICT sector as a whole, Ahern said he believed that the two year-long consolidation of the sector has ended and that the industry was ripe for growth and expansion.
“The sector plays a strategic role in the growth of the European economy. The sector has been the largest contributor to European productivity growth.”
“Governments have an important role to play through increasing their own usage of ICTs and broadband applications and where needed they can support the provision of services and infrastructure in under-served areas. The importance of the implementation of the new regulatory framework must not be ignored because of its role in creating a predictable legal environment for the benefit of investors and enhancing competition,” he said.
Ahern urged continuing co-operation between the EU Commission, Member States and relevant stakeholders and international players in battling “spam” or unsolicited e-mails. He said spam now accounted for 50pc of all emails. It was an issue that had to be tackled in a concerted international way.
Ahern concluded: “The Irish Presidency is keen to explore opportunities for co-operation with the US in the fight against spam. We would like to take the opportunity of the Presidency to encourage our EU counterparts to engage in similar initiatives.”
By John Kennedy