Govt plans rapid next-gen broadband – 30Mbps for all by 2012?

14 Jun 2011

Communications Minister Pat Rabbitte, TD, has convened a high-level taskforce to focus on the deployment of high-speed broadband in Ireland, with the aim of completing its work by March 2012. It aims to work to an EU target of 30Mbps for all citizens and 100Mbps for 50pc of Irish citizens.

While broadband coverage has improved in Ireland, other countries have improved their speeds and coverage.

At a time when 2,000 tech-related jobs have been created in just six months in Ireland, the need for the country to boost the quality of its broadband coverage has never been more urgent.

This is also at a time when 450,000 people are currently out of work. Having a broadband connection is the first step to finding work in 21st-century Ireland. Having a quality broadband connection is also the first step to businesses retaining customers in 21st-century Ireland.

IrelandOffline yesterday quoted Ookla Net Index data that showed Ireland is 79th in the world for upload speeds and 24th in the EU.

For download speeds, Ireland is 49th in the world and 23rd out of the EU-27.

In terms of broadband quality, Ireland is 38th in the world and 18th out of the EU nations.

It emerged last night that Rabbitte and his colleague, Fergus O’Dowd, TD, Minister for State at the Department of Communications with responsibility for the NewERA plan, convened a high-level taskforce on the roll out of high-speed broadband.

Next Generational Broadband Taskforce

The Next Generational Broadband Taskforce (NGBT) comprises the CEOs of all of the major telecommunications companies currently operating in the Irish market and CEOs of some internet service provider companies.

Its purpose is to discuss how best to deliver the optimal policy environment and to identify a road map for the speedy delivery of high-speed broadband across Ireland. The minsters are also keen to accelerate private-sector investment in this area of critical importance to economic and social development.

Outlining the aims of the group, Rabbitte said: “Delivery of high-speed broadband to all parts of Ireland is an essential Government priority. It will underpin economic growth and recovery, as well as providing important dividends in terms of education, health and other social benefits.

“I am confident that we will see rapid progress. Industry is already investing heavily in this area in Ireland, and our aim is to accelerate this investment. We want to encourage companies to work collaboratively across the sector to maximise the roll out of next-generation infrastructure without compromising the competition that is so vital for innovation.

“We also want tease out how the State can support industry delivery without cutting across their investment plans,” Rabbitte said.

Targets to be in line with EU broadband targets

The NewERA plan as stated in the Programme for Government proposes to fibre-enable 90pc of the country with the remainder served by wireless services.

Whether the country is capable of delivering fibre to 90pc of homes and business will be determined by the technology and levels of investment. Realistically, urban areas are most likely to benefit from this scenario whereas rural-based homes and businesses will most likely access next-generation broadband wirelessly via fibre-connected LTE base stations and satellite broadband.

The taskforce will consider issues such as appropriate targets, investment plans and the role of Government policy and actions in driving and facilitating investment.

But there is no denying the urgency at the same time as investment battles facing CEOs of telecoms companies who have to convince parent companies of the need to invest in infrastructure in recession-weary Ireland.

O’Dowd said: “Delivery of high-speed broadband throughout Ireland is a key commitment under the Government’s NewERA programme, and will contribute to maintaining jobs and economic recovery by creating the necessary infrastructure to support enterprise investment. The work of the taskforce will critically inform how best to deliver on this important policy imperative.”

Both ministers noted that under the Digital Agenda for Europe, the European Commission has set targets of 30Mbps broadband to all citizens and 50pc of citizens subscribing to 100Mbps by 2020.

It also commits to universal broadband provision by 2013. The Government-funded National and Rural Broadband Schemes are already delivering on this latter objective. The ministers emphasised that Government policy is now firmly focused on the delivery of much faster broadband to all regions in Ireland.

A key focus of ministers’ discussions with industry will be whether the 2020 targets can be delivered earlier, to develop an ambitious road map for high-speed broadband in Ireland, and what measures can be collectively and individually taken to deliver on that road map.

It is intended that the taskforce will conclude its work by March 2012.

“Industry welcomes the NGB Taskforce and looks forward to working with  Minister Rabbitte  and other stakeholders to accelerate Next Generation network infrastructure investment in Ireland.” said Tommy McCabe, director of the Telecommunications and Internet Federation (TIF).

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