National Broadband Plan is on track to deliver, says Irish Government

17 Dec 201521 Shares

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Ireland’s ambitious National Broadband Plan is still on track to deliver broadband to 300,000 homes and 100,000 businesses by 2020.

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Ireland’s ambitious National Broadband Plan is still on track to deliver high-speed broadband to 300,000 homes and 100,000 businesses by 2020, with the procurement process starting next week, a spokesperson for the Department of Communications told Siliconrepublic.com.

The plan – priced at between €300m to €500m – is being spearheaded by Communications Minister Alex White TD and will fund operators to compete to deliver a guaranteed minimum of 30Mbps download speeds and 6Mbps upload speeds with 99.95pc uptime.

Many people living in rural areas covered by the plan are far beyond the reach of fixed-line broadband services and in areas previously designated economically unfeasible by operators to serve. Hence the need for the intervention.

Questions over the future of the plan emerged in recent months after Eir’s wholesale division Open Eir said it can now provide fibre services to 300,000 homes that had been designated as being in the intervention area (IA).

 ‘The plan is not in jeopardy. The procurement process will commence next week where the Pre-Qualification Questionnaire will be issued on the European Official Journal and e-tenders’
– DEPARTMENT OF COMMS

In the past week, further doubts were raised following the publication of a report by UCD economist Colm McCarthy, which was commissioned by a group of 36 wireless internet service providers (WISPs), that described the plan as seriously flawed in terms of market design, monopoly regulation and competition issues.

A spokesperson for the Department of Communications in response to questions by Siliconrepublic.com said the National Broadband Plan is on track and procurement is about to begin.

“The plan is not in jeopardy. The procurement process will commence next week where the Pre-Qualification Questionnaire will be issued on the European Official Journal and e-tenders.

“This department and Government will work with Eir and all broadband providers that have expressed an interest in the upcoming tender process.”

If anything, the Department of Communications said it will stick rigidly to the plan as outlined this summer.

“As stated previously, and as set out in the timelines to-date, the procurement process will commence next week with a view to concluding a contract or contracts in 2016.

“We expect the initial homes to be connected in late 2016, with 85pc of premises in Ireland to have access to high-speed broadband by 2018, with an ambition of 100pc by the end of 2020.

“The Government is determined to ensure that the network is built out as soon as possible and engagement with industry stakeholders has indicated that this could be achieved within three to five years of the contract award.

“While all industry investments are welcome, these investments, together with any required subsidy from the State will ensure that the above targets are achieved as envisaged by the National Broadband Plan,” the Department of Communications spokesperson said.

The need for broadband market intervention is very real

Despite the fact that many people currently living in the intervention area (IA) cannot access adequate high-speed broadband services, the WISPs’ report this week tried to make the need for intervention seem unnecessary, offering a limp argument that there is no evidence of market failure in these areas.

You can imagine a lot of people – who I can vouch for – who live in these market intervention areas would argue otherwise.

The WISPs are no doubt concerned about the arrival of fibre services in their respective market areas despite the Department of Communications stating that all services will be accessible on a wholesale basis, enabling the WISPs to become fibre providers in their own right.

The reality is that State intervention to deliver broadband is years overdue and many homes and businesses are on the wrong side of the digital divide.

If anything, access to quality broadband services should be considered a basic human right and the US Federal Communications Commission (FCC) ruled earlier this year that anything below 25Mbps can no longer be defined as broadband.

The latest figures from ComReg for the third quarter of 2015 found that approximately 54.2pc of all fixed broadband subscriptions were equal to or greater than 30Mbps.

Where the WISPs report has merit is where plans to use wireless spectrum and white spaces to enhance broadband availability need to be coordinated and communicated more clearly.

Earlier this week, ComReg revealed that wireless capacity in Ireland will need to be trebled in the coming years and said that plans are underway to facilitate the use of 700MHz spectrum to boost broadband availability.

“Apart from market design issues, the lack of coordination between ComReg and the DCENR regarding the allocation of appropriate spectrum to allow wireless operators offer next generation speeds in excess of 30Mbps is very worrying,” said John McDonnell, chairman of Wireless Broadband Ireland.

“In our view, companies providing services over fibre are being favoured by the NBP to subsidise their network rollout, while wireless companies will be required to participate in spectrum auctions to provide the same services over wireless networks. We are finding it increasingly difficult to raise funds to grow and expand our business because there is a fear that the NBP, as promised by the Government, may drive wireless operators out of business”, he said.

Rural broadband image via Shutterstock

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Editor John Kennedy is an award-winning technology journalist.

editorial@siliconrepublic.com