An interview with TIF chairman John McKeon

21 Jul 2010

TIF chairman John McKeon, at the recent TIF annual ball in May, called on network operators, content providers, the Government and the regulator to work together to overcome the obstacles to building a next-generation access network (NGN) for Ireland.

McKeon said that pointed to a recent TIF report which estimated that a national broadband network would cost around €2.5bn to build.

“To justify the business case, the industry must work together, public policy and regulation must be supportive and the value distribution/net neutrality debate needs to be addressed. While resolving these issues is not sufficient on its own, it is a necessary first step.”

A few months later, preparing for the 17th annual TIF conference on 12 October, McKeon reiterates the point, adding that it is an economic imperative that would raise all boats.

“I think obviously the telecoms sector is feeling the pressure of the economic recession but nevertheless continues to invest and have an optimistic and ambitious outlook for the future,” he explains.

“The companies in the sector are still investing €600m a year in the network, there’s more 3G being rolled out, more next-generation broadband being rolled out, WiMax being rolled out. The companies are still going and investing in their future.

“Obviously, there are demands that the level of investment be stepped up and that the nature of investment be stepped up in terms of fibre and that’s a challenge the industry is facing up to and we’re working together to see if there’s a collaborative way of making that investment happen.”

Policy and investment questions

However, while the industry is willing to build the new networks, question marks over Government policy and how the investments are made, where they are made and by whom, are what need to be resolved.

“In building the next-generation network there’s really four stakeholder groups, there’s customers who will obviously use the services a next-generation network can carry, there’s the telecom operators who will build the networks and hopefully get a return from that network, there’s the Government and wider society and there’s the content providers.

“If you take Government as a proxy for wider society, building a next-generation network will have huge externalities that economists point to in terms of benefits for society. There’s studies that show worldwide that investment in NGNs has a multiplier effect in terms of economic output and development.

“Even in the short term if you build that network, we estimate 5,000 jobs in a five-year period to build the next-generation network so the Government is a key stakeholder,” McKeon said.

He brought up the thorny subject of net neutrality and the question over whether content creators or the online entities who create the traffic and demand should play a role in deploying future networks.

“The fourth stakeholder are the content providers who will use that network to deliver content to their customers. Now the issue is between those four stakeholder groups there’s more than enough resources to make next-generation networks happen.

“Within the telecommunications industry we are not looking to Government to fund it, we’re looking to Government to provide the right regulatory and policy environment to incentivise this investment.

“We wouldn’t be looking necessarily at the customers to fund it either, customers already pay for their services and there’s obviously demand on their purses at the moment.

“We’d be looking to ourselves in a collaborative mode to minimise the amount of investment,” required.

McKeon said that these and other issues such as wireless spectrum and digital dividend will be discussed at the forthcoming TIF conference.

John Kennedy is a journalist who served as editor of Silicon Republic for 17 years