More than 1m Irish people have never used the internet, says Kroes

13 Oct 2010

The EU will not be writing blank cheques to help Governments meet the targets of the Digital Agenda plan for half of Europe to have 100Mbps, Commissioner Neelie Kroes said yesterday. But it will help regions willing to help themselves.

The straight-talking Commissioner from Holland told yesterday’s TIF conference there are structural funds that countries are failing to make use of that are available. Regions such as Cornwall in the UK have tapped into such funds and in return have seen job growth and other economic benefits through efficient fibre rollout.

She also said that part of her programme to achieve the target of 30Mbps for all households, as well as half of homes having 100Mbps by 2020, she has set a target of 800Mhz spectrum (formerly 2G mobile) being allocated across Europe by 1 January 2013.

“Maximising the role of ICT will help us to build the next economy.

“Time is not our friend, it is running out and we have to deliver. Don’t think the Digital Agenda is only about productivity, it is people, growth, jobs and quality of life – a good fit for Ireland, by doing more with less.

“More than 1 million Irish people have never used the internet, they need to be part of the digital era and contribute to economic recovery.”

Kroes said she doesn’t believe the deployment of next-generation networks is the role of governments but of private enterprises.

“But I am aware that there are areas where business models are not really interested in doing the job alone, where there are no profits to be made, such as in rural areas, on islands – we reviewed the state aid guidelines and there is the opportunity indeed for those areas to use state aid and then the Government’s role is at stake.

“We need to flip to the question – how can we afford not to invest – Europe has the highest broadband penetration but the rest of the world is catching up. Irish businesses are now competing with Asian businesses 100 times faster than our own. Not acceptable.

“Our objective is to bring basic broadband to all Europeans by 2013 and ensure that by 2020 everyone can get access to 30Mbps and 50pc or more of European households subscribe to more than 100Mbps.

“Rightly thinking that’s great, but were will money come from? The bad news and good news: I have not come here to write blank cheques.

Moving the Digital Agenda from vision to action

For Ireland to truly derive value from the spectrum opportunity, Kroes said the backing of the Irish Government and its people is vital.

“That policy will allow wireless to be funded. If you care about getting rural Ireland connected, the proposed requirement from member states to ensure efficient spectrum – wireless applications play a full role in broadband for all. We suggest from 1 January 2013 to make 800Mhz of digital dividend available. It’s a tough deadline but I think if we can build momentum behind, let’s go for it.

“All telecoms operators need to invest a lot to roll out fibre – but we can’t let this transition lead to a re-monopolisation of telecoms networks – with liberalisation we can achieve a better market, functioning better.”

Kroes said that the European Investment Bank already invests €2bn in broadband projects and this will increase as part of wider strategy. The bank is capable of underpinning gross investment up to 15 times. “That is a challenging part – we don’t have lack of money but a lack of money available for productive investment.

She cited the Cornish authorities who sought and obtained €32m to build a fibre network. “A third of this came from the Regional Development Fund – now Cornwall is fully covered with broadband.” She said this had a positive impact in terms of jobs, education and health issues.

“With that type of example, put those opportunities in Ireland, make it easier for you to access those funds, make every effort to take advantage of funds and opportunities.

“We should keep in mind universal broadband offers benefit beyond broadband. Whatever we decide in the future, make it possible to benefit all economic sectors,” Kroes said.

Watch highlights of Neelie Kroes’ talk at TIF 2010 – The Next Economy here: icon: launch video

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