Eircom DSL levels for towns “impossible to reach”

25 May 2004

Many of the broadband trigger levels set by Eircom for small towns to qualify to receive DSL connections are too high to be achievable, an investigation by the telecoms lobbyist ComWreck has revealed. It means that 150 Irish towns are unlikely to gain access to fast internet access over telephone lines.

Last year, Eircom announced a scheme by which towns with a population of less than 1,500 people would ‘vote’ for broadband. Once they reached a certain number of votes, between 200 and 700 residential customers depending on each town, Eircom would then make DSL internet connections available from the town’s nearest telecoms exchange.

However it appears that these targets have been set extremely high, making it unlikely that any of the towns will qualify. ComWreck has compiled data on the 150 towns around Ireland using 2002 census figures for households and has compared these with the published trigger levels. Eircom’s scheme is only open to landline account holders, so with a single phone line in most homes, the amount of possible votes is in reality much lower than the town’s population. Based on these calculations, it seems that some Irish towns would have to demonstrate well in excess of 100pc demand to receive DSL.

To put this demand in context, this compares with broadband adoption of 16pc in other European countries such as Austria, not to mention a stated target of broadband rollout in Ireland of 10pc made by the Minister for Communications Dermot Ahern TD.

Peter Weigl of ComWreck slammed the plan. “Eircom’s broadband trigger programme is nothing but a cynical PR exercise: It is simply impossible for any of the 150 trigger towns to achieve the required level of votes,” he said.

The trigger programme initially resulted in several initiatives by local communities to achieve the required trigger level in their towns. One of the earliest and most active of such campaigns was ‘Broadband for Kinnegad’. However Gareth Pelly, co-ordinator of that campaign, has now described Eircom’s programme as a “sham”. Before the trigger level scheme was officially announced he made informal enquiries to Eircom last year and was told by a spokesperson that the trigger level for Kinnegad would be “circa 100”. He set about garnering support in the local area and by later that year he had amassed 50 votes. However when the scheme was formally unveiled months later, Eircom had tripled the level for Kinnegad to 304.

Pelly estimated that Kinnegad has 436 households, requiring around 70pc of residents with Eircom accounts to register their interest.

“The only thing I can take from this is that they have absolutely no intention of doing it,” Pelly told siliconrepublic.com. “They’ve made it impossible and it’s unfair.” Broadband for Kinnegad is now in discussions with other service providers about obtaining broadband internet access for the town by other means.

A sample set of ComWreck’s figures shows even higher levels needed to qualify for DSL through the trigger programme. This is exacerbated further in the context of recent figures from the telecoms regulator in Ireland which show that 83pc of households in Ireland have a fixed telephone line. Assuming this average in the case of any of the 150 trigger towns, it appears that demand would have to be near-total or greater in order for them to qualify for DSL.

The Eircom trigger for Aughrim, Co. Wicklow is set at 247. The town’s household level, based on 2002 census figures, is 427, which equates to 88pc demand. Other examples are Virginia, Co.Cavan (trigger 485, 427 households, 114pc demand); Rosscarbery, Co. Cork (trigger 312, 166 households, 188pc demand); Moutbellew, Co. Galway (trigger 256, 193 households, 133pc demand) and Caherciveen, Co. Kerry (trigger 442, 499 households, 89pc demand).

Meanwhile Eircom plans shortly to embark on a new marketing campaign to publicise the trigger level scheme more widely, siliconrepublic.com has learned. It also plans to review the programme to date.

When contacted for comment, Eircom would not reveal statistical details about its trigger levels but a spokesperson said that it calculated those original figures based on the number of phone lines in an exchange area and not based solely on town populations. “The exchange areas in many cases serve a much wider area than the towns themselves,” she said.

Christian Cooke, chairman of the broadband lobby group IrelandOffline, pointed out that DSL only has an effective range of 5,000m or so from the exchange. There are also issues around the quality of phone lines, he added. He called the trigger level scheme “completely unrealistic”.

Cooke suggested that towns eager for fast internet access could instead follow the example of Knockmore in Co. Mayo, which set up a broadband network for users that is owned and run by the local community. The Knockmore broadband setup currently connects to the nearby Ballina metropolitan area network over a wireless link.

Dubbed the group data scheme, such initiatives are being supported by IrelandOffline and more information is available from www.irelandoffline.org. “There’s no magic involved to becoming an ISP for your local community – programming a VCR is about as complicated,” said Cooke. “The mechanics of setting up a co-operative system like that can be taught. This is a model that can be replicated elsewhere in the country.”