SME representative body Chambers Ireland has called on the Government to invest in a fibre optic broadband network to deliver broadband to every business and household in Ireland that would be a minimum of five times the current capability. Such an investment, Chambers envisages, would cost €2bn.
In a submission to Forfas, Chambers has argued that this strategic investment would underpin Ireland’s future growth as a knowledge economy and complement the ongoing strategic investments flagged in fourth-level education and advanced scientific research.
Chambers said that the design, construction and rollout of such a network reaching every home in the state would cost in the region of €2bn and could be undertaken as part of the next national development plan.
Chambers Ireland director of policy Seán Murphy explained: “The current debate on broadband is focused on how Ireland lags behind its international competition for its telecommunications capabilities. Not only does this ignore the fact that we use higher standards to define broadband than our European counterparts, it also misses the real argument which is that we are not being ambitious enough in our broadband plans.
“In order to build Ireland’s economy for the future, we require a quantum leap in both the bandwidth capacity and availability of broadband throughout the state,” said Murphy.
He said Ireland is currently aiming for a 1MB network but the needs of Irish business have already surpassed this. He warned that within 10 years, 10-100mbps access speeds by both consumers and businesses would be the norm.
“There is no point in investing in a network now to match the needs of today; we need to plan for the needs of 10 years from now. A ubiquitous broadband offering of very high quality, such as that which we are proposing, would enable access to and the deployment of key new technologies, such as voice over internet protocol (VoIP) services, that are vital for the future growth of our economy.”
Murphy pointed out that in the absence of a strong business case there is little incentive for current telecom network providers to invest the required resources to bring Ireland’s telecom infrastructure into the 21st century. He also noted that copper wire will not be able to deliver the required bandwidths needed by the new technologies currently being developed around the world.
“Chambers believe the company that wins this tender could also be awarded exclusive management and access rights, subject to the delivery of agreed service and price levels and so forth for a period of time.”
He also noted that such a significant investment by the Government would not be the first of its kind in the history of the State. “We estimate the cost to the Government of delivering fibre optic cabling to all homes and businesses in Irish towns and cities to be around €2bn. This should be viewed in the context of the multi-billion euro multi-annual investment currently being undertaken by ESB to upgrade its network.
“It is also worth bearing in mind that previous Irish governments operating in much more fiscally constrained times backed similar radical and forward-thinking infrastructural investment programmes such as the commissioning of the Ardnacrusha hydro-electric power station, the Rural Electrification Scheme and the creation of one of the first national electricity grids in the world,” Murphy pointed out.
By John Kennedy