Broadband fortune favours the brave


15 Nov 2007

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The blame game between the public and private sector over who is responsible for Ireland’s crumbling telecoms network must end and a top-down investment of €4bn by the State to ensure universal fibre to the home and business must be made, the head of Shannon Development has insisted.

Otherwise, Kevin Thompstone warned, an economic debacle akin to the poor thinking that led to the Red Cow Roundabout logjam on the M50/N7 awaits a nation whose economy must be fuelled by new job creation and knowledge-based industries.

“Twenty years ago the Red Cow M50 interchange was designed and we ended up with chaos for the past decade,” said Thompstone. “What was missing in that instance was joined-up thinking and brave decision-making.

“If we don’t invest properly in our communications infrastructure, we’ll end up with the Red Cow equivalent of telecoms at a time when we’re trying to tell the world we’re a knowledge-based economy and trying to bring business here.”

Shannon Development estimates that a complete next-generation network (NGN) across the Republic of Ireland, providing fibre to the home and business, would cost the State €4bn.

He said when you measure the knock-on benefits of job and wealth creation for decades to come, €4bn isn’t much when compared with infrastructure investments such as the €2bn upgrade of Dublin Airport and the estimated €5bn it would take to bring the Luas to Dublin’s northside.

Earlier this week, it emerged that the contracts for completing the neglected 15pc of Ireland without broadband and providing a minimum of 1Mbps broadband — already considered defunct in most countries — won’t be made until the second quarter of next year; this could mean another year before rollout even begins.

He said when Irish policy-makers take brave decisions, good things happen such as the economy of today, which saw its seeds sown in the Sixties and Seventies when the right educational decisions were made.

“A decision was taken recently to invest €2.5bn in world-class research over a four-year period. Now Ireland is in the top 50 universities in the world.

“When Ireland makes brave decisions, we reap the rewards. We’re looking to generate investment and compete aggressively against locations such as Switzerland, South Korea and Singapore. For this, a good nationwide NGN is fundamental. “If Ireland makes the brave decision and invests this €4bn, it will result in a carrier-neutral network that will see competition from many service providers, rather than one carrier controlling access and putting up a barrier to innovation and future wealth creation.”

Thompstone last week suggested at a telecoms seminar that Shannon in Co Clare would be ideal for a pilot NGN project. He revealed that, because Shannon, Ennis and Thurles were among the first towns in Ireland to have DSL, a decision was made for them to be bypassed for the investment in metropolitan area networks (MANs).

“The world has moved on since then and every principal town in Ireland has DSL and a MAN, yet these three big towns are neglected for MANs. It often feels like, when generating economic development, we are pushing a boulder up a hill and someone at the top is pushing on the other side.

Nevertheless, an organisation called Shannon Broadband, of which Thompstone is also chairman, comprising local authorities in Limerick, Clare, north Tipperary and Offaly, has deployed MANs around eight towns ahead of schedule and within budget.

He says the Government needs to wake up to the implications of failing to fix the nation’s crumbling telecoms infrastructure. “This is about economic policy, not telecoms. What kind of a country do we want? What businesses do we want? Don’t just talk the talk about a knowledge economy when the vital pieces of the jigsaw aren’t in place.

“Ireland, the nation, requires high-speed access, with plenty of choice and at good prices. Instead, what we have today is poor service-level agreements and poor coverage. Someone needs to make brave decisions if we want to have a globally competitive economy,” Thompstone added.