Fresh row blazes over cost of lighting up Ireland’s rural fibre network

19 Sep 2017

Image: littleny/Shutterstock

Eir responds to telcos’ threat to boycott its rural FTTH network.

Ireland’s incumbent telecoms operator Eir has defended charges it places on other licensed operators accessing its rural fibre network, saying it is significantly less than the cost of accessing corresponding electricity infrastructure.

Members of the Alternative Licensed Telecoms Operators (ALTO) group are engaged in a row with Eir over the cost of rural broadband connections and are threatening to boycott Eir’s network in parts of rural Ireland.

‘Eir is the only operator investing in rural Ireland, spending €200m to provide fibre to the home to 300,000 homes and businesses’

The operators are up in arms over the €270 Open Eir (Eir’s wholesale arm) charges to connect broadband customers if they are located more than 50 metres from Eir’s network.

Readers will also recall how a recent Government memo signalled that costs of accessing broadband in rural Ireland as part of the National Broadband Plan (NBP) could be 60pc higher than envisaged based on regulated prices agreed with ComReg.

That memo, which emerged as part of a response to a Freedom of Information (FOI) request (which is mysteriously no longer online), indicated that at cost price, such access would have been 10 to 15pc higher than envisaged.

The FOI request sought more information about Eir’s deal with the Irish Government in April to connect 300,000 homes in rural Ireland to fibre as part of a €200m investment, reducing the intervention area of the NBP from 840,000 down to 540,000.

To access the remaining 540,000, winning bidders of the NBP would still have to transmit over Eir’s network.

Row over FTTH is start of a bigger debate about infrastructure access

The nexus of the argument is ultimately down to infrastructure in general and how much utility operators – from electricity to telecoms, road and gas – charge to access one another’s infrastructure.

Sources indicate that while Eir charges €270 to access fibre, the cost of accessing electricity infrastructure on a similar basis can run to thousands of euros.

In a statement, Eir defended the charge: “Providing best-in-class technologies such as fibre to the home [FTTH] carries significantly higher costs in rural locations than in urban and suburban locations. In fact, in many cases, the actual cost of providing an FTTH connection in rural Ireland is higher than the regulated price we charge.

“In order to compare the connection charges for fibre to home, the comparison must accurately reflect the geographical differences where these services are offered. It is not a like-for-like comparison between Eir’s commercial fibre to the home roll-out in rural Ireland with Siro’s roll-out to suburban towns in Ireland, or with BT’s urban FTTH roll-out in the UK.”

Eir said that the cost of connections charges to deliver electricity or gas services in rural environments is significantly higher than the connection charge for the delivery of fibre to the home.

“Eir is the only operator investing in rural Ireland, spending €200m to provide fibre to the home to 300,000 homes and businesses that previously had minimal or no broadband availability. Close to one-third of the 300,000 homes and businesses can already order best-in class-broadband speeds of up to 1Gbps.

“We operate the largest open-access wholesale network in Ireland, providing more than 40 operators with an unrivalled footprint of homes and businesses throughout Ireland. Operators, including ALTO members, sell a range of products and bundles directly to end users.

“Our wholesale prices are all regulated and the wholesale prices we charge for fibre to the home, including the connection charges, were approved by the regulator less than 12 months ago. Operators such as Siro do not have regulated pricing,” Eir said.

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