With only 134,848 customers subscribing to broadband services as of last December, Ireland still ranks among the lowest out of 30 OECD countries at 24th place. In response, BT Ireland CEO Bill Murphy commented that Communications Minister Noel Dempsey’s target of more than 600,000 broadband subscribers by 2007 will not be met, with a figure of 350,000 more likely.
According to the latest figures from the OECD, broadband subscribers in OECD countries increased by 34.1 million to reach 118 million by the end of 2004.
Korea led the OECD in broadband penetration with 24.9 subscribers per 100 inhabitants, followed by the Netherlands with 19 subscribers per 100 inhabitants, followed by Denmark (18.8), Iceland (18.3), Canada (17.8) and Switzerland (17.3).
Ireland, however, was near the bottom with only 3.4 broadband subscribers per 100 people. Hungary was ahead at 3.6 and Greece was at the very bottom with 0.4 broadband subscribers per 100 people.
Our nearest neighbour, the UK, had 10.5 broadband subscribers per 100 hundred ranking 14th and the US ranked in 12th place with 12.8 subscribers per 100 inhabitants.
However, despite its consistent poor showing, Ireland did demonstrate a remarkable improvement on previous years. In 2001 the country had zero subscribers, in 2002 it had 0.3 subscribers, in 2003 this rose to 0.8 subscribers and finally 3.4 subscribers per 100 inhabitants last December.
Broadband lobby group IrelandOffline calculated that the current rate of progress in the Irish market translates into a present rate of 650 subscribers per week for the service and it is unlikely the country will have 600,000 broadband users in 2007. Spokesman Eamonn Wallace commented: “The figures show we had the highest growth for 2004, but despite this we are still far behind the OECD average penetration, just one third of the OECD average and two years later our position in the OECD table remains the same.
“It is clear we are not catching up and surpassing the OECD countries, which had been promised. Going by recent poor broadband take-up figures we’ve already reached our peak.
“Despite the metropolitan area network [MAN] projects, the Government Broadband Scheme projects and fresh targets set by Minister Dempsey last year we have not moved up the table at all, nor will we until prices go down and availability goes up,” Wallace said.
At BT Ireland’s earnings briefing yesterday in Dublin, chief executive Bill Murphy said: “At the present rate we may come out at having 350,000 broadband subscribers at the end of 2007.”
He said the process of local loop unbundling and enabling consumers to sign up for broadband services needs to be made easier. “What’s happened is that all the early adopters of broadband have signed up for it and little else appears to be happening. We are now at the position whereby the next level of penetration will be driven by innovation. There is a clear need for a wholesale product that allows operators to meet the price point that will attract new users. Unfortunately, the present rate of local loop unbundling is not allowing that to happen.”
Speaking of Minister Dempsey’s target for the industry he said the problem is “the Government and the telecoms industry have not come together to officially say that by a certain date Ireland will have 100pc broadband coverage. The MANs are out there, but the overriding problem is still the local loop and unbundling the exchanges.” He also said the minister should consider giving the Commission for Communications Regulation more authority and the Government should produce a road map for progress.
Murphy contrasted Ireland’s present plight with Northern Ireland, where almost 100pc of the population can now receive broadband.
By John Kennedy