Telecoms industry group the Association of Licensed Telecoms Operators (ALTO) has welcomed a decision by the Department of Communications, Marine and Natural Resources to award the €18m Broadband for Schools tender to several operators in the fields of fixed, wireless and satellite broadband rather than solely to Eircom, as would have traditionally been the case.
It emerged today that Eircom failed to win a single broadband contract out of the €18m initiative, but instead secured a €2m contract to provide the schools with routers from a separate €18m initiative aimed at kitting out schools with network equipment to carry broadband. According to the Department of Communications, however, Eircom will also be providing wholesale support over its network for fixed-line broadband proposals. The latter move could be seen as an effort to make Eircom more competitive in the wholesale space.
Several providers were recipients of various elements of the €20m broadband contracts. These include: wireless operator Digiweb (1,428 schools); fixed-line provider Smart Telecom (1,041 schools); wireless provider Irish Broadband (592 schools), Esat BT (585 schools); Last Mile (215 schools) and HS Data (87 schools).
ALTO chairman Iarla Flynn described the decision as a significant boost for competition in the broadband sector and should bring new investment to many parts of the country. “On the back of this investment we expect the new providers will be able to compete aggressively with Eircom for customers.
“This announcement also sends a signal to the industry that Government is now prepared to shop around for the best value and service quality in broadband,” Flynn added.
He said the tiered approach that was used for the schools broadband tender should be applied across all such government tenders in future. “In particular, we would like to see this approach adopted when the contract for all of the State’s communications needs is tendered later this year. By adopting a tiered approach, new entrants could tender for specific parts of the State’s communications needs, thereby giving the Government much better choice and value,” Flynn added.
Wireless broadband provider Irish Broadband said the inclusion of wireless in the decision marked a maturation of the technology in the eyes of Government.
A spokesperson from Irish Broadband said: “We see it as a positive endorsement that wireless technology has matured into a mainstay player in the broadband market that can compete effectively with DSL and provide quality broadband to schools, businesses and households throughout Ireland.”
The broadband contracts are expected to be concluded with selected operators by the end of January and the rollout programme will commence almost straight away. It is intended that all schools will be connected by the end of 2005 or full completion.
By John Kennedy