ESB aims to provide fibre-broadband service that could boost 500,000 homes

23 Jan 2014

Ireland’s Communications Minister Pat Rabbitte is aiming to push through a bill that will enable semi-State electricity provider ESB to provide a wholesale broadband service that would see superfast broadband reach some 500,000 homes.

Describing the move as a “very welcome development”, Rabbitte said the move by ESB is in the spirit of the National Broadband Plan, which commits to the use of State assets to accelerate the roll out of high-speed broadband infrastructure and services.

The ESB (Electronic Communications Networks) Bill 2013 is for the purposes of enabling the use of ESB’s infrastructure and not specific to any given project.

However, the ESB harbours ambitions to open its network through a joint venture with another telecoms or infrastructure player on a wholesale basis, in a move that would benefit at least 500,000 homes.

The Government has a goal of having a minimum of 30Mbps for every home by 2015.

The ESB already operates a fibre network across its electricity transmission network.

Joint venture

The proposal on Rabbitte’s desk is that the new network will differ from the existing fibre network in that it would be a stand-alone business with no direct connection to the electricity network and may be developed as a joint venture with another telecoms provider.

In August, the company launched a call for expressions of interest in such a joint venture (JV), which is understood to have attracted much interest from the telecoms industry.

“It should be noted that the legislation is not, however, project specific and will allow ESB’s considerable distribution infrastructure to become available to the telecommunications market even if the current JV proposals do not come to fruition,” Rabbitte said.

As of September 2013, there were more than 1.6m broadband subscribers in Ireland, up 1pc on 2012. In the fixed-line market, about 42pc of subscriptions were equal or greater than 10Mbps, up from 31pc the previous year.

In the same period, 33pc of all broadband subscriptions were equal or greater than 30Mbps, up 20pc on the previous year.

In addition, 4G services from Eircom, Vodafone, O2 and Three have already gone live after the companies received spectrum licences from ComReg as part of a €855m auction process.

Fibre-optic networking image via Shutterstock

John Kennedy is a journalist who served as editor of Silicon Republic for 17 years