Eircom’s broadband goal conflicts with Govt target

25 Nov 2004

Eircom’s plan to have 500,000 broadband users by 2007 is at least a year behind the challenge recently set by Communications Minister Noel Dempsey TD, IrelandOffline has warned.

The group has called on the minister to conduct an urgent review of the broadband market in Ireland and called for all broadband providers to state six-monthly objectives on broadband rollout, from now until the time that Ireland has 100pc coverage.

Yesterday, Eircom CEO Phil Nolan paid out a dividend to shareholders based on achieving a target of 83,000 broadband subscribers and 102,000 when you factor in broadband customers acquired by players such as Esat BT using Eircom’s wholesale offering. Nolan said Eircom was at least six weeks ahead of target. At the same time as re-affirming the telco’s plans to return to the mobile market, Nolan said that Eircom aimed to have some 500,000 broadband customers live by December 2007.

However, in recent weeks Minister Dempsey set a challenge to the industry to have some 500,000 broadband subscribers in place by 2006 at the latest.

IrelandOffline, seeking ministerial intervention in the wake of Eircom’s statements, indicated that Ireland is currently 18th out of 21 countries in the OECD and is at least three years behind the rest of Europe in broadband rollout. John Timmons of the lobby group commented: “Eircom is talking about 2007, but let’s talk about today. Today in Ireland less than half the population can get broadband, broadband rollout is three years behind the rest of Europe, 20-25pc of lines in areas covered for broadband fail the Eircom quality test (compared to less than 1pc in the UK) and there is a deepening digital divide between the rural and urban populations.”

Discounting Eircom’s claim that Ireland is the fastest adopter of broadband in Europe, Timmons continued: “We have 100,000 broadband subscribers in Ireland today. Meanwhile in the six counties in the North they have 70,000 connections and a guarantee of 100pc coverage by February while Eircom are promising us in the Republic 90pc by a far off date in 2007.”

Timmons’ colleague Aidan Whyte added: “We are calling on Eircom and all the other companies in the market to release their plans for their future broadband rollouts and to include six-monthly objectives from now until the time Ireland has 100pc coverage.

“Further to this we are calling on Minister Dempsey to urgently conduct a review of the state of broadband in Ireland in the light of Eircom’s failure to realise the seriousness of the country’s plight,” Whyte said.

According to data provided by the pressure group, some 99pc of all phone lines in the UK will be enabled for broadband by December 2005 and in Northern Ireland by February 2005. The group also pointed out that out of 1,100 telecom exchanges around Ireland, only 200 have been enabled to carry broadband.

The group also pointed to the issue surrounding pair gain, otherwise known as the failure of phone lines to carry broadband because during the Eighties the lines were split in order to be shared amongst houses, resulting in some homes qualifying for broadband whilst their nearest neighbours’ lines failed tests. The group pointed to a US Security and Exchange Commission filing made by Eircom claiming that failure rates were around 24pc and warned that the current DSL technology being rolled out by the incumbent is five years old, whereas other countries have moved on to newer DSL technology that paves the way for offerings at least 16 times faster than Eircom’s most popular product. In the UK last week, internet service provider UK Online unveiled an 8Mbps offering for £39 sterling a month.

By John Kennedy