Businesses in Portlaoise will be able to avail of ADSL and SDSL broadband services from €45 a month from 11 April as a result of Esat BT unbundling its 40th exchange in the town.
However, the reality that it is only the 40th exchange out of 1,000 exchanges countrywide to be unbundled since deregulation in 1999 makes the news somewhat bittersweet. Local-loop unbundling (LLU) is the process whereby part of Eircom’s telephone network can be rented by a competitor that can then install its own equipment in Eircom’s telephone exchange to supply a range of products from high-speed broadband to digital TV.
Over the past three years, Esat BT is the only company that has successfully unbundled exchanges throughout Ireland, offering both ADSL and SDSL services to 2,500 corporate and enterprise customers. Customers switching from Eircom’s broadband service can also switch their phone service and without having to change their phone number.
It is understood that up and coming player Smart Telecom has an ambitious strategy to offer broadband countrywide by unbundling up to 50 exchanges by the end of this year. However, the slow rate of unbundling achieved so far by Esat BT, turns Smart Telecom’s initiative into a daunting challenge that could swallow up time and resources.
Esat BT unbundled its first exchange in May 2002 and this roll out has continued with coverage extending from Sligo to Wexford and Drogheda to Tralee. Esat BT has invested more than €200m in Ireland over the past three years, with a significant portion of this investment going into LLU.
Automation of LLU and hefty charges associated with accessing exchanges is currently the subject of a High Court case this week between the Commission for Communications Regulation (ComReg) and incumbent operator, Eircom.
Chief operating officer of Esat BT Mike Maloney said the company is undeterred and will continue to invest in LLU over and above the 40 exchanges unbundled so far.
“As a relatively mature broadband player with three years of unbundling experience now under our belts, we have serious concerns about the LLU model as it stands today. LLU will allow us to offer more aggressive price points and better services that will drive broadband penetration into the market.
“However, we cannot currently deliver these benefits to customers as there are no automated processes in place to facilitate mass-market delivery. This is stifling the market and preventing broadband growth. As such, we fully support ComReg in its current regulatory efforts to ensure that the Irish landscape for broadband is as dynamic and competitive as possible,” Maloney said.
By John Kennedy