Fibre more important than roads – Minister

4 Jul 2008

Minister Eamon Ryan podcast

“Roads don’t hold a penny in comparison to the importance of fibre to the Irish economy,” said the Minister for Communications, Energy and Natural Resources, Eamon Ryan TD (pictured), during an interview with as he outlined a major €435m investment by the Government in Ireland’s broadband infrastructure.

Minister Ryan yesterday announced a visionary plan to make broadband universal in Ireland by 2010.

The ambitious plan involves making use of the nation’s stranded fibre assets owned by CIÉ, ESB and Bord Gáis, as well as putting 100Mbps connectivity into Irish schools and ensuring that every new housing development includes fibre ducting.

Minister Ryan said there is a growing realisation in Government that while the rest of the economic world slides into recession, the guiding light for Ireland is its technology sector.

“Fibre is more important than roads,” he said. “Roads don’t hold a penny by comparison to the importance of fibre networks to the Irish economy.

“If you look at it this way, the recent ESRI mid-term review forecast that 70pc of exports in 2025 will come from digitally traded services. That’s not going to be on roads but on fibre-optic cable in and out of the country.

“If you look at jobs in financial services and other ICT fields, that’s where our economy is growing fastest. I was at the Digital Hub on Monday and they were saying that despite the economic tough times, they are experiencing a boom in applications from companies coming in and creating jobs.

“The Government is absolutely committed to developing a digital economy as a response to other international economic difficulties, whether it’s the credit crunch or something else.

“This is the right time to re-state our commitment towards developing a knowledge economy. To do that, broadband infrastructure is our key infrastructure.”

He explained there is agreement across a number of government departments and agencies that state fibre assets should be used to provide access and ducting.

In terms of making it mandatory for all new housing developments to include fibre ducting, Minister Ryan said it also neatly suits the environmental agenda. “It makes sense in terms of our goal of meeting energy efficiency standards.

“It’s better to build something from the design stage than to retrofit and that applies to communications as much as it applies to energy. They go together. With a fibre connected house it may be easy to get smart heating, which starts to use devices in a house in a much more interactive, flexible way.”

The policy document from Government yesterday said future investment in Metropolitan Area Networks (MANs) will be determined in accordance with a value for money review of the MANs due to be delivered to Government this Monday.

Ryan said: “The MANs have done what they were designed to do, they kick-started investment by other telecoms providers in regional areas and also had a strong benefit in terms of foreign direct investment (FDI).”

However, he acknowledged there were difficulties in terms of smaller towns that haven’t yet been lit up due to backhaul and last-mile access difficulties.

“There’s still a fundamental problem that where there was limited backhaul access to a town the average price of connectivity was very high.”

By John Kennedy

Minister Eamon Ryan podcast

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