Same old planning problems threaten to delay National Broadband Plan

28 Sep 201561 Shares

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Private sector interests have warned that traditional problems around costs and planning could cause delays to the National Broadband Plan.

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Despite the presence of two EU commissioners in Dublin today to give their glowing approval to the National Broadband Plan that will bring 1.8m Irish citizens into the 21st century, private sector interests have warned that traditional problems around costs and planning could cause delays to the project.

The National Broadband Plan is an ambitious but well thought-out endeavour that aims to bring 1.8m Irish citizens living in rural areas back across the digital divide so they can enjoy the same economic opportunities as people who currently get broadband.

The plan, costed at between €300m and €512m, will bring 38pc of the population currently on the wrong side of the digital divide into the 21st century with 30Mbps speeds and higher. By 2018, 85pc of Irish citizens will have high-speed broadband.

At least that’s the intention.

‘A disconnect between the objectives of the National Broadband Plan and the approach by local authorities and the National Roads Authority regarding telecoms infrastructure and road openings adds to the problem’
– TORLACH DENIHAN, IBEC

In Dublin today (28 September) were EU Commissioner for Regional Policy Corina Cretu and EU Commissioner for Agriculture and Rural Affairs Phil Hogan to consult with Irish rural community groups, farming organisations, and business development agencies about rural broadband and the development of Ireland’s digital strategy.

Communications Minister Alex White TD said the Government’s National Broadband Plan was on course to deliver high-speed broadband access to every home, school and business in Ireland by 2020.

“This is our most important public investment in rural Ireland. We have created the conditions where the commercial sector is bringing high-speed broadband to many more towns in rural Ireland. The Government’s direct intervention will then deliver connectivity to all our citizens, including 80,000 farms and 63,000 small businesses. The physical build of the network is on course to start next year and will be completed in 2020, with 85pc of Irish premises getting high-speed broadband access by 2018,” said White.

“When this Government came into office in 2011, just 300,000 homes in Ireland had access to high-speed broadband. Today, that figure has risen to 1.3 million following Government initiatives to stimulate commercial investment. By the end of 2016, commercial providers will be delivering high-speed broadband to 1.6 million addresses. The Government will intervene directly to bring high-speed broadband to the rest.”

There is no doubting White’s sincerity and the dedication of the team tasked with developing and rolling out the National Broadband Plan.

However, the IBEC-based body called TIF (Telecoms and Internet Federation), which represents the private telecoms industry, has suggested traditional roadblocks around planning by local authorities and the National Roads Authority are threatening to stymie progress.

Stifling spectres return to haunt broadband progress

The lynchpin of the National Broadband Plan is cooperation between public bodies and private bodies. Main contenders for vast sections of the plan include private sector players like Eir (formerly Eircom) as well as SIRO, the fibre-based joint venture between ESB and Vodafone, and possibly a whole slew of different providers who may have a part to play.

The plan is for the rollout of fibre broadband to begin later this year to address areas previously deemed not commercially viable by the private sector.

TIF director Torlach Denihan has warned that the high cost of deploying fibre as well as frustrations with planning and access to dig up roads are likely to frustrate the plan.

Denihan explained that since 2010 the industry invested €2.5bn in telecoms infrastructure and when coupled with 4G spectrum licences this had risen to €3.2bn, equal to Ireland’s 2014 Public Capital Programme.

He said that 27pc of Ireland’s villages have fewer than 50 homes, compared to the OECD average of 11pc.

“This means it is more expensive to provide broadband service here than elsewhere because more telecoms infrastructure in terms of masts, fibre and cabinets is required per customer.”

He said the situation is not being helped by obstacles and delays in the planning system, a disconnect between the objectives of the National Broadband Plan and the approach being taken by local authorities and the National Roads Authority.

“As is well documented, Ireland is a very expensive country to run a business due to high input costs such as rents and wages. Network rates payable by telecoms operators to county councils, which are in addition to the normal commercial rates, are approximately double the UK average and site rental costs for telecoms infrastructure are approximately twice the EU average.

“This reduces the funds available for network investment and TIF calls for them to be set at a more realistic level when the matter is up for decision shortly

“Better broadband service requires more telecoms infrastructure. Obstacles and delays in the planning system remain. A disconnect between the objectives of the National Broadband Plan and the approach by local authorities and the National Roads Authority regarding telecoms infrastructure and road openings adds to the problem.

“Cooperation between providers, government, local authorities and State agencies is crucial to improving broadband,” Denihan said.

Irish country road image via Shutterstock

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Editor John Kennedy is an award-winning technology journalist.

editorial@siliconrepublic.com