Call for re-think of broadband PPP as DSL trickles out

24 Oct 2002

Esat BT and Eircom are set to hit initial targets for DSL-enabled exchanges by the end of the year, but both operators report a disappointing take up of the service.

While a total of 52 telephone exchanges around the country have been made DSL-ready since May, only 2,200 customers have signed up for the service.

This situation has prompted Esat BT chief executive Bill Murphy to call for a rethink on the Government’s Public Private Partnership (PPP) initiative.

Instead of putting in place infrastructure and then trying to find customers, he wants the Government and industry to engage in an education programme to sell the benefits of broadband and then look at providing access when there is demand.

In the UK, BT launched a website that allowed potential customers to register their interest in DSL. When a large enough number of customers in any one area requested it, then BT would enable the exchange and offer the service.

Murphy wants to put a similar programme in place here, while Eircom agrees that steps should be taken to increase demand before undertaking massive infrastructure development. “DSL is a very powerful product, but there is a big issue with education. There’s very little demand in the market at the moment, because few people are aware of the benefits of products like this,” says Brendan Nevin, marketing director of Eircom.

“Customers won’t buy DSL just because it’s faster — they’ll only buy it if they can see the actual benefits to their business. We try to position our data products by concentrating on the benefits they bring to the business, rather than their features,” he says.

Eircom has unbundled 36 local telephone exchanges in the Dublin area and has around 2,000 customers. It also hopes to have further exchanges in Cork, Kerry, Limerick and Galway ready to go by the end of the year. Esat BT currently has 16 exchanges unbundled, with a further 24 due to go live by the end of the year, but it reports only 200 customers.

“It seems that a key problem is that many small businesses don’t know about DSL and don’t see the worth to their business of going broadband. It’s our job to sell DSL to everyday businesses, not just to IT companies, and to sell on the basis of bottom line benefits. To do this, we need the Government’s business agencies and business organisations such as IBEC and the SFA to begin to communicate the benefits of the technology,” says Nevin.

Esat BT’s DSL rollout has been part-funded by the Government through the EU. With higher levels of funding available for areas outside Dublin, it has concentrated on these in its initial plans, targeting 30 regional exchanges and 10 in Dublin City.

“We chose 40 based on business coverage and that’s the way we’re rolling out. We’re not waiting for the demand to be there. Beyond the first 40 we will start to look at areas where we’ve had queries and where the demand is high,” says Deirdre Donegan, Esat BT’s DSL product manager.

While Esat BT has offered DSL for six months, take up has been slow. “Limerick is the only exchange that has been up and running for a significant amount of time, as the majority of the exchanges came online at the end of August or the beginning of September,” she explains.

“We’ve noticed in the last month that there’s been a significant increase in the amount of orders that have been coming through and that’s in no small part down to the information that’s been out in the media,” says Donegan.

Both Esat BT and Eircom say they are promoting their DSL services through local and regional media, and not on a nationwide basis, explaining that they don’t want to create demand for a product where it is unavailable.

“We hold events at each of the exchanges that we roll out to, inviting local businesses and the Chambers of Commerce along so that they can find out more. It’s such a new technology though that there’s a knowledge gap to be filled. When people see it and one or two companies get it in an area, then it very quickly grows,” explains Donegan.

Eircom’s i-Stream DSL comes in three product offerings. The entry-level package, i-Stream Solo, costs €165 for connection and €89 per month for a single user connection and provides 512Kbps download/128Kbps upload with a data cap of 3GB per month.

Esat BT’s DSL offering starts at €125 for a single connection and €90 per month for a 512Kbps download/256Kbps upload connection with no data cap.