Minister for Communications, Energy & Natural Resources Eamon Ryan has been the driving force behind much of our existing digital strategy, championing infrastructure initiatives like the metropolitan area networks (MANs) and the National Broadband Scheme. But are we doing enough to link these urban areas to truly create a nationwide digital nervous system?
“Some of them are already linked,” Minister Ryan told us. “There are developing competitive backhaul networks, like BT, ESB, Eircom, and they are working. The bigger centres are the ones that tend to be working that bit better because they have that backhaul, and they’ve the volume of traffic on the backhaul, so you tend to get some fairly competitive pricing.”
He concedes that this must be an ongoing priority. “One of the things we’re saying in our ‘Next-Generation Broadband’ paper is that we need to look if can we better use the ducting that exists on State infrastructure, to assist the industry in whatever way they want to provide backhaul connectivity. We have an advantage here in that we have a fair amount of State-owned ducting compared to other countries. That’s got to be one of the key projects.”
Ryan says a collaborative approach will be key within industry and between industry and Government, where there is shared investments, and alternative operators get open access to existing networks. As regards the incumbent fixed-line player, if new owners don’t see the merit in this collaborative approach, “we’re going to have to provide it in different ways. Because access will come, there’s no two ways about it, and the market here will find ways to provide that access, if it isn’t provided by one provider. There are others.”
Before the end of June, Ryan’s department will publish an interim ‘Knowledge Society’ report – responsibility for the ‘Knowledge
Society’ was moved from the Taoiseach’s department to his last year – and he says he will be aiming to get some of the key actions into this year’s budget in December.
He is certainly of the view that, be it private or State investment, now is no time to stop investing in our digital infrastructure. “That would be my main concern, that there’d be a lack of investment now. We have made progress, but if we have a gap now for a couple of years where we don’t make the investments for the next generation, we’ll just fall behind.”
By Ann O’Dea
This story is part of the Digital 21 campaign to encourage Ireland to develop a National Digital Development Plan, ensuring the country and its economy are strategically well placed to thrive in the 21st century. For more stories, and to add your comments, visit www.digital21.ie