Almost one out of every two Irish households now accesses the internet, according to the latest quarterly figures from ComReg.
Domestic internet penetration in Ireland stood at close to 50pc for the three-month period to the end of December last year – an increase of 5pc on the previous quarter.
The telecoms regulator said that the findings pointed to several important developments in the Irish communications sector. Of those online at home, one in five people said they accessed the internet every day and almost 40pc said they used it several time per week.
Uptake in flat-rate internet access services has remained strong, the report found. Flat-rate subscribers have increased from 30,000 in the third quarter to 40,000 at the end of December 2003. ComReg said that indications suggest current take-up levels exceed 1,600 per week. Flat-rate services were first introduced in June last year.
DSL adoption appears to have doubled, up from around 13,000 to almost 26,000 at the end of December 2003. Take-up levels for DSL lines are currently greater than 1,400 per week.
A separate residential survey published by ComReg shows a growing awareness and adoption of competitive alternatives for fixed-line telecoms services. Two-thirds of those surveyed said they had been approached by an alternative operator in the past 12 months.
Carrier pre-select lines now account for 14pc of all fixed lines. Some 18pc of respondents said they used an operator other than Eircom for their fixed telephony services. One in four respondents said they switched back to Eircom from competitors in the past twelve months.
According to tariff comparison data published by ComReg as part of the quarterly report, Ireland has improved its standing to fifth cheapest in the EU for residential fixed telephony services. The comparison takes into account the recent controversial line rental increases from Eircom. The ranking for business telephony services fell by one place however.
The Irish telecoms sector accounts for approximately 3.5pc of gross national product and turns over an estimated €3.62bn per year. Total revenues for fixed, mobile and broadcasting sectors have risen 5pc since 2002.
Mobile phone penetration now stands at 87pc of the population, up 4pc since the last quarter. All operators increased subscribers, ComReg noted. Each mobile subscriber sent on average 82 text messages each month from October to December, up from 78 in the previous quarter.
Mobile ARPU has increased by €1 to €47 which is 52pc higher than the EU average. In addition, more than 80,000 subscribers have availed of full mobile number portability, first introduced last summer, to change provider.
Moving from the mobile to the living room, the report found that half of all pay-TV households are now digital subscribers. Cable or MMDS companies have increased their share of the digital market to 26pc.
By Gordon Smith