If the broadband woes of Ireland are ever to be successfully removed, the newly appointed Minister for Communications, Marine and Natural Resources, Noel Dempsey TD, should closely adhere to the recommendations contained in the report on broadband by the Oireachtas Joint Committee on Communications published last March, says lobby group Ireland Offline.
Ireland Offline spokesman Damien Mulley argued that the report’s 12 key recommendations on resolving Ireland’s broadband problems completely by 2010 offer a sufficient solution to the ongoing problem. “We did a lot of soul searching at our recent AGM and asked members what they believed to be the best path forward. We looked at the Oireachtas report published last March and agreed with nearly every point in it.”
The report set down guidelines on how Ireland should have 5Mbps broadband in every home by 2006, increased to 10Mbps by 2008.
The Joint Committee on Communications, which is chaired by Cork Fiánna Fail TD Noel O’Flynn, is a cross-party committee that includes TDs and senators from most of the key political parties, including Fiánna Fail, Fine Gael, Labour, the Green Party and Sinn Fein. The 200-page report was the result of six Oireachtas committee meetings held last year that saw presentations from 47 community, industry and state groups including the Atlantic Technology Corridor, Southern Health Board, the Commission for Communications Regulation, Microsoft, Hewlett-Packard, IBEC and Cisco, to name but a few.
Published on 24 March last, the report contained 12 key recommendations aimed at resolving the frustrating position businesses, educators, the Government and overseas investors have found themselves in. The first objective is to define broadband as a service that provides at least 512Kbps connectivity and set as a target 5Mbps by 2006 with widely available 10Mbps connectivity in 2008 as a further target. To make this happen, the Department of Communications, Marine and Natural Resources must develop a National Broadband Infrastructure Plan in 2004.
Another key recommendation of the report was the appointment of a single Minister of State with cross-departmental responsibility for the rollout of national broadband infrastructure and the development of e-government services. As well as this the Oireachtas report recommends closer co-operation between the Government, the telecoms industry and the end users of broadband services.
The report called for a mandate that all national, regional, county and city development plans incorporate the provision of broadband infrastructure with such plans and that all new developments, housing and office, are future-proofed for broadband.
Included in the document was a recommendation that the Department of the Environment and local councils in future must only approve planning permission on construction developments that include broadband connectivity in the same way as electricity and water are judged.
On the issue of local-loop unbundling (LLU), the report found that LLU on its own may not deliver real competition in the broadband market. “In Ireland, as elsewhere, the reality following the process of LLU has been a disappointment and competition over the last mile has not increased significantly.” In its list of recommendations the Joint Committee discards the term “last mile” and calls for a focus on “bridging the first mile” as the first key policy issue.
The report acknowledges that with the failure of the market, LLU and poorly thought-out investment in projects that have failed to deliver, “the availability, price and choice of broadband services and service providers in Ireland is significantly more limited than in other countries”.
The report described as “unsustainable” the fact that market failure has resulted in the business and residential markets having access to a smaller range of broadband access platforms from an even smaller range of providers at prices that are higher than both our European neighbours and international competitors.
Also contained in the report was an appeal by the general secretary of the Department of Communications, Brendan Tuohy, to ensure that the issue of broadband be given sufficient attention. In a presentation to the joint committee, Tuohy said: “Grass is to an agricultural economy what broadband is to the new economy. It is the basic bedrock. You cannot have the new economy if you do not have broadband. ADSL is an introductory technology. The Government objective is to hit 5Mbps. Everyone accepts that it is going to happen but the issue is how quickly we do it. We are in a chicken and egg situation. The industry will provide broadband when the demand is there but the demand will not be there until the infrastructure and services are there,” Tuohy said. Highlighting how Sweden is investing €5bn in rolling out broadband, Tuohy estimated that Ireland would need to invest €1.95bn to achieve 95pc total broadband coverage of the country.
Speaking to siliconrepublic.com on Friday, Ireland Offline’s Damien Mulley said: “We would like Minister Dempsey and the Department of Communications to look seriously at this impressive body of work and consider its recommendations. We need more dialogue and we believe that the Oireachtas report sufficiently summarises the key issues and offers progressive recommendations on resolving them.
“We are confident that if Minister Dempsey takes the reports recommendations seriously he can make a considerable impact,” Mulley said.
By John Kennedy