New communications minister Noel Dempsey has challenged the Irish telecommunications industry to have a minimum of 400,000 broadband subscribers achieved by the end of 2006. Dempsey said he also plans to publish a quarterly report detailing broadband customer growth numbers company by company.
“Forget about 100,000 broadband subscribers as a target – forget about 200,000. I want to see an industry target of a minimum of 400,000 broadband subscribers achieved by the end of 2006 – that’s 28pc of the customer base – if industry PR is accurate that must be a realisable challenge. This is achievable,” he told today’s Telecommunications Industry Federation (TIF) annual conference in Dublin.
“The real challenge industry should set itself is 500,000 by end 2006. I also intend to publish a quarterly report, starting from November 1st, on broadband customer growth numbers by company,” he added.
However, Dempsey went all out to nail as a myth the issue that Ireland is significantly behind other countries in the rollout of broadband. “Broadband is no longer an optional extra and customer figures bear this out in no uncertain terms. Latest national broadband figures show a 70-fold increase in broadband customers since March 2003, with the number of DSL customers currently at over 75,000, and growing by over 30pc each quarter. In addition there are over 6,000 customers who access broadband by cable modem, and over 4,000 using fixed wireless access.
He also said that the Government’s target of putting Ireland in the top 10pc of the world’s broadband nations is within early reach. “Let me nail a myth here. These figures place Ireland favourably in the league tables for broadband, and indicate that the Government’s objective of a top 10pc OECD position is within early reach. There is still a significant challenge and a growth premium in Ireland’s broadband market for companies with the ambition, hunger, will and guile to go after it.”
Dempsey said that the current momentum around the Broadband for Schools Initiative (BSI) – which aims to have every school in Ireland broadband-enabled by the start of the 2005 school year – should be employed as a catalyst or initial step to engrain ICT into the Irish education curriculum.
Speaking on the BSI effort initiated by IBEC bodies TIF and ICT Ireland, Dempsey said: “That partnership proposition is not simply about Government and the ICT sector enhancing the physical inventory of ICT assets available in the education sector. It is also about engaging teachers, educators and all key sectoral actors in a high intensity ICT delivery programme. More than 85pc of teachers have basic ICT training and tapping into that educative goodwill can reap immense returns.”
He continued: “Education does not end at the school gate, nor should the engagement with ICT. The rollout of broadband to 4,200 schools, or put another way, into 4,200 communities, provides a great opportunity to spin that broadband out into the wider community.
“Once schools are addressed I want to see that broadband footprint extended into the broader community by industry. In the context of the programmes available to me, I am in listening mode on how we can partner to achieve that,” he told Ireland’s telecommunications industry.
By John Kennedy