ComReg falls short on broadband, documents show

10 Dec 2004

The Commission for Communications Regulation (ComReg) is not meeting the terms of a Government broadband policy directive issued earlier this year, has learned.

The telecoms regulator had been mandated to report to the Department of Communications, Marine and Natural Resources on the progress of broadband rollout. In March of this year the previous minister, Dermot Ahern TD, had directed ComReg to use regulatory and enforcement tools where necessary to bring Irish end-user broadband usage and availability to at least the EU average excluding accession countries by the middle of next year.

However, according to documents obtained by the telecoms lobbyist Peter Weigl and seen by, the regulator is supporting its case by using figures and definitions that differ from the terms set out in the directive. However, the figures remain well below the EU average.

In its submission to the Department dated 12 October ComReg reported: “Overall coverage levels for access to broadband now exceed 75pc and are in line with the European average as outlined in the March 2004 Policy Direction.” This statement, however, referred to broadband coverage, not end-user access to broadband, which the directive had specifically requested. Coverage implies a theoretical take-up as opposed to actual usage of DSL by consumers. Earlier this year it emerged that less than 50pc of the 1.7 million phone lines in the State are capable of carrying DSL, which is the main technology currently used for supplying broadband connections.

The ComReg submission also stated that the “present target of 100,000 by year end will be achieved. This will then represent around 6.25pc of lines”. Weigl claimed this does not meet the department’s directive either. The EU broadband penetration rate referred to in the department’s directive was based on broadband subscriptions per 100 inhabitants. By that measure, 100,000 broadband connections translates to 2.5pc of the country’s inhabitants. The equivalent EU average in the middle of this year was 7.22 broadband subscriptions per 100 inhabitants, Weigl pointed out. “This is no end-user broadband usage figure and should not have been used in this context at all,” he said.

Weigl also questioned why the figure of 100,000 became a target for ComReg when this was a figure first set out by Eircom. In fact the former state telco last month undertook a major publicity campaign highlighting the fact that it had reached 100,000 broadband subscribers ahead of its own schedule.

ComReg had no response to make when contacted for comment.

By Gordon Smith