Private sector to build Ireland’s next digital infrastructure

26 Jul 2010

Outlining Ireland’s infrastructure priorities until 2016, the Government said the main investment in fibre-optic networks will be via the private sector. Enabling civil works – which account for 80pc of all investment – will be a way of achieving economies of scale.

In its €40bn capital expenditure review, which focused heavily on transport and science, technology and innovation, the Government revealed that the main investment in fibre-optic network will be made via the private sector through competing fixed line, cable, wireless, mobile, satellite, WiMax and other technologies.

Overall, €12bn will go into transportation. Even though ESRI forecasts suggest that more than 50pc of jobs and 70pc of exports will be in the services sector by 2025 – in which digital infrastructure will be the main arteries of trade – only €300m will be invested in enhancing the country’s communications technology until 2016.

Outlining how it will help the private sector deploy the digital infrastructure on which the country will depend for future trade, Government help will come by leveraging State assets such as ducting in road, water, energy and public transport projects.

Because 80pc of the cost of next-generation network installation is accounted for by ‘civil works’, the Government said that by providing access to all state infrastructural works, operators can achieve significant economies of scale.

“Investment decisions in the current climate are not easy,” the capital spending review stated. “What is clear is that continued investment in Next Generation Access Networks is an imperative if Ireland is to realise its potential as a modern, digitally-enabled economy and society.

“The Government is encouraging telecommunications companies to explore a collaborative approach to investment, which is similar to the sharing of network infrastructure already under way. The Government will continue to engage with industry and the regulator to promote the right environment for the necessary investment in NGNs,” the review said.

Allotment of Government funding

Overall, the Government allotted €1.2bn to the Department of Communications, Energy and Natural Resources, out of which €880m will go into energy programmes, €320m will go into ICT and €72 into other unspecified programmes.

The review pointed out that broadband accounts for 90pc of internet connections and that Ireland now exceeds the OECD average but that further investment, led by the private sector, is required to plug existing gaps and enhance competitiveness and productivity.

It said that through State investment, 87 fibre optic rings, or Metropolitan Area Networks, have been built across the country’s towns and cities and recommended that the next programme of fibre rollout should prioritise the National Spatial Strategy gateways and hubs.

It said that progression towards universal broadband coverage has been improved by investment in the National Broadband Scheme which is bringing coverage to 220,000 rural premises.

To provide coverage to the estimated 12,000 households not connected to broadband, the State will invest in a new Rural Broadband Scheme to provide this coverage by the end of 2012.

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