Broadband momentum needed

16 Nov 2004

With only 100,000 broadband subscribers, Ireland has a broadband penetration of roughly one-fifth the average level of competitor countries, according to a 21st Century Infrastructure policy statement from the Information Society Commission (ISC). Despite moving up one notch from 19th to 18th position out of 21 countries in an OECD report, the ISC warns that there is no room for complacency in resolving this prevailing issue.

In a bold statement this morning, the commission warned that the Government’s target to be within the top 10 of OECD countries for broadband services by mid-2005 will not be reached and urged the Government to restate its position towards a more feasible objective.

The ISC’s spokesperson, Dr Patricia O’Hara, said that if the Government’s target were to be reach it would mean having 5Mbps broadband to the home and substantially higher rates of business users, but argued this would not happen unless there was regular benchmarking of progress and an alliance among all players to speedily attack barriers to adoption.

In a call to arms for the Government, the ISC has highlighted five priority areas where it believes stronger broadband engagement by the Government could help significantly make some progress on the enduring issue.

It indicated that ambitious broadband targets – such as Communications Minister Noel Dempsey TD’s 400,000 broadband subscriber challenge to industry – should be supported by a coherent strategy, a responsive regulatory environment and a clear focus on driving market growth through competition through technology platforms, such as wireless and fixed-line broadband.

The ISC also pointed to the Government’s Spatial Strategy and warned that that the digital divide being caused by difference in availability, quality and cost of broadband services must be addressed, bolstered by a concerted effort to ensure effective broadband rollout to smaller towns and rural areas.

Government itself, the ISC recommends, could be a key adopter of broadband by ensuring public sector demand for sophisticated broadband services, which in turn would enable better quality public services and drive market development.

The ISC also called for considerable benchmarking or ongoing measurement of progress against international progress in the area.

The establishment of an independent Broadband Delivery Group was also called for by the ISC with the aim of bringing all the key broadband stakeholders together, ensuring shared commitment to key objectives and swiftly attacking any barriers to the adoption of broadband in Ireland.

“The ISC urges Government to restate its commitment to seeing Ireland within the top decile of OECD countries for broadband. This means widespread availability of service speeds of 5Mbps to the home, and substantially higher for business users”, said Dr O’Hara.

“We need clear targets and regular monitoring of Ireland’s progress. While we welcome the growth in DSL subscriptions, the ISC is concerned about the limited availability of these services outside of larger centres. We also worry about whether this technology can deliver sufficient capacity over the longer term.

“It is crucially important that we maintain investment in a variety of broadband options, both to maximise competition, and to avoid over-dependence on any one technology platform. Stronger measures will also be needed to support the objectives of the Group Broadband Scheme in ensuring availability of broadband services to smaller towns and rural areas,” O’Hara said.

By John Kennedy