Private investment will underpin NGN broadband rollout


22 Jun 2009

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The Irish Government’s next-generation network (NGN) broadband plan reveals that it is willing to support private enterprises investing in NGNs with regulation, spectrum licensing and direct government action, where appropriate.

In a paper – ‘Next-Generation Broadband: Gateway to a Knowledge Ireland’ – published today by the Minister for Communications, Energy and Natural Resources, Eamon Ryan TD, the government broadband plan for the smart economy says the lynch pin of future NGN deployment will be private-sector investment, rather than direct intervention.

This means the Government will not be directly investing in rolling out fibre across the country. Instead, it will work to create optimum conditions for providers to invest in infrastructure.

According to the document, the Commission for Communications Regulation (ComReg) is to review the current regulatory framework and report back with an action plan to improve the current investment climate.

The Government has also developed a wireless licensing programme, Test and Trial Ireland, to help industry and academic institutions that wish to conduct R&D in products and services that use spectrum.

In terms of ‘targeted government action’, the implementation of the long-awaited ‘one-stop shop’ to make use of stranded fibre assets is finally underway. For example, according to telecoms industry sources, if CIE’s fibre assets were put to use, there would be enough fibre to connect 80pc of Ireland’s urban centres.

A final decision in the structure of the one-stop shop – whether as a state agency or a public/private partnership – will be decided this summer. It has been decided that the ownership of infrastructure assets of agencies participating in the one-stop shop will remain in their own hands.

In terms of using state assets, the Government has committed to facilitating network operators’ access to the various assets on commercial terms.

Major public infrastructure projects will, in future, install ducting at the construction phase.

A state-appointed task force has identified the supply of relevant state infrastructure, including road, rail, gas pipeline and electricity infrastructure. In terms of infrastructure readiness, there are clear differences between state agencies that have thriving telecoms businesses, such as the ESB, and those that don’t but have infrastructure, such as the National Roads Authority.

The plan includes making it a requirement for all new buildings constructed in Ireland to install open access fibre at the build stage, rather than engaging in an expensive retro fit.

The €223m National Broadband Scheme to cover the last 10pc of Ireland’s population not served with broadband was kicked off in April by contract winner 3.

The paper predicted that by 2012, Ireland’s broadband speeds will be equal or greater than comparative EU regions.

A pilot project to roll out 100Mbps connectivity and local area networks (LANs) to 75 schools is currently underway and will guide the wider rollout to post-primary schools across Ireland.

The plan says the procurement process will be technology neutral “to take advantage of the best solutions that the market can offer”.

In terms of future state investment, the Department of Communications is in the final stages of contract negotiations with E-net for the management of phase 2 of the metropolitan area networks (MANs), which will extend from 27 towns currently to 94 at the end of the project.

The €30m ‘Project Kelvin’, which will link Ireland with the US, Canada and UK via 24,000km of undersea cable, neared completion this weekend, with workers from Magnet Networks’ parent company Hibernia Atlantic busy bringing the fibre ashore at Portrush Co Antrim. In terms of linking Kelvin to Irish towns, some of the locations will be connected this year and all will be operational in 2010.

“A fast, effective and open-access communications system is fundamental to our future economic successes,” said Minister Ryan. “It will enhance our position as a centre for investment, generate employment and boost our competitive advantage.”

He pointed out that significant advances have been made since the paper was published for public consultation. Ireland is now ranked amongst the top 20 countries internationally for e-readiness, and broadband subscriptions have reached almost 1.3 million, with over 60pc of homes, and almost 90pc of businesses, connected.

“This paper is just the beginning of our ambitions,” said Minister Ryan. “It forms part of a wider strategy to develop Ireland as a smart economy with innovative, high-efficiency technologies at its core.

“Schemes such as Project Kelvin, which begins construction this week, will see Ireland further develop as a hot-bed for investment in the communications, digital and ICT sectors.

“Over the past year, we have been putting many of our priorities into action. With this policy, we are pledging to go further and faster,” the Minister said.

By John Kennedy

This story is part of the Digital 21 campaign to encourage Ireland to develop a National Digital Development Plan, ensuring the country and its economy are strategically well placed to thrive in the 21st century. For more stories, and to add your comments, visit www.digital21.ie

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