Only 13.4pc of Irish broadband lines above 10Mbps

7 Nov 2011

Forfás CEO Martin Shanahan

Just 13.4pc of broadband lines in Ireland have speeds of 10 Mbps and above versus an EU average of 38.9pc, a worrying new study by Forfás reveals. If the market won’t deliver, then the State will need to intervene, Forfás warns.

In its latest report, Ireland’s Advanced Broadband Performance and Policy Priorities, Forfás warned that delivering advanced broadband speed is the top infrastructure priority for enterprise.

As enterprises generally tend to locate in urban centres, the Forfás report focuses on delivering advanced broadband services to all towns with a population greater than 1,500, which is an interim milestone to achieve the Digital Agenda 2020 targets and the targets proposed in the Programme for Government.

Broadband infrastructure, Forfás’ CEO Martin Shanahan warned, is the key to enabling Ireland to capture new growth opportunities and jobs in areas like education, digital media, cloud computing and entrepreneurship.

“The best solution for delivering advanced broadband services is that the market invests but in the event the market does not deliver, the State will need to intervene.”

The report outlines that while the advanced broadband needs of ICT-intensive enterprises are generally well met in the large urban centres, businesses, particularly SMEs outside the main urban centres, have significantly less choice and less access to good quality services.

Just 13.4pc of broadband lines in Ireland have speeds of 10 Mbps and above versus an EU average of 38.9pc. It also highlights the urgency for action with the report setting out a goal of rolling out advanced broadband services in all towns with a population of 1,500 or above within five years.

“In recent years, Ireland has made significant progress in terms of the widespread availability and take-up of basic broadband services by firms and households. Forfás is concerned, however, that Ireland is lagging competitor countries in the rollout and take-up of advanced broadband services.

“Given the weak telecommunications investment climate in Ireland, dispersed population patterns and the recession, there is a strong risk if appropriate action is not taken quickly that Ireland will fall even further behind as other countries move decisively ahead to deploy advanced telecoms networks. It is critical that we act now.

“We need to make it easier for the private sector to invest in rolling out advanced broadband services and we set out specific actions to do this in the report. These include measures to lower investment costs, reduce red tape and stimulate demand.

“We need to quickly agree the advanced broadband targets and milestones for Ireland, identify the infrastructure deficits nationally and then develop and implement a plan to achieve these targets,” Shanahan warned.

Forfás recommendations for State action on broadband

To ensure the timely delivery of advanced broadband services in Ireland, the State needs to:

  • Develop an implementation plan which would include mapping existing telecommunications networks and concrete investment plans and then identifying the deficits that exist nationwide in terms of the availability of advanced broadband services.
  • Having identified the deficits, design a mechanism (eg, competition/procurement process) to determine the level of market interest in addressing the identified deficits through a collaborative approach between the industry players and the State.
  • Make a firm commitment to providing or sourcing the funds required to achieve the goals set out in the Programme for Government, and set objectives and targets to ensure the timely rollout of advanced broadband services. The level of funding required will depend on the extent of the advanced broadband deficits identified by the mapping exercise, the degree to which the market players can invest and how the deployment of advanced broadband infrastructure is phased.
  • If the competition/procurement process is not successful in leveraging investment from the market players to support the State’s broadband objectives and targets, progress with a State asset collaboration approach using the existing state telecommunications infrastructure. In this context, Forfás has examined in detail how such a State asset collaboration could deliver advanced broadband services to all towns with a population of more than 1,500 people.

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