Telecoms industry calls for state support on broadband infrastructure

12 Nov 2014

Telecommunications and internet stakeholders met at the Oireachtas Joint Committee on Transport and Communications today to discuss broadband and mobile coverage throughout Ireland.

The lobby, represented by the Telecommunications and Internet Federation (TIF) and the Irish Cellular Industry Association (ICIA), spoke of the continuing private investment across most of the broadband network – however it remains up to the Government to invest in areas that offer little private reward.

“Where it is commercially viable, companies will provide high speed broadband, whether fixed, cable or mobile, by making the necessary major investment in telecoms infrastructure,” explained Torlach Denihan, director of the ICIA and TIF. “In areas where it is not commercially viable this investment is to be made by Government through a public tender.”

Last April the Government committed to a major telecommunications network build-out to rural Ireland, with fibre as a cornerstone of its investment under the National Broadband Plan. At the time the Minister for Communications, Energy and Natural Resources, Pat Rabbitte said that this commitment is a clear expression of Government’s determination to address the connectivity challenge in rural Ireland in a meaningful and sustainable way.

Industry support halves State burden

“TIF supports this initiative and industry is working extensively with the Department of Communications to help with this project,” said Denihan at today’s meeting. “Accelerated commercial investment by industry has taken place since 2012. The department informed the committee that the result is that the area to be addressed by the State scheme has been reduced by half.”

“The committee is gravely concerned at the lack of connectivity currently available in many rural areas,” said TD John O’Mahony, chairman of the committee, ahead of today’s meeting. “As part of this series of hearings, we are also exploring how the blackspots in mobile coverage around the country can be filled. A modern and comprehensive telecommunications infrastructure is vital for balanced regional development.”

Denihan detailed the revenue streams brought about through the sector’s growth, with 18,000 people employed in telecoms alone, generating €1.4bn in taxes (3pc of total tax revenues). Having invested €2.5bn in Ireland’s telecommunications infrastructure in the last five years, Denihan spoke of how this investment will continue as 4G becomes more desired. Indeed 4G rollout has already started, with some 300,000 active subscriptions.

“Significant investments in cable, fixed and mobile infrastructure are required. There are clear economic and social benefits from advanced telecommunications. Cooperation between operators, government, local authorities and state agencies is critical to making progress. A more coordinated approach by local government and state agencies will make investment happen faster,” said Denihan.

Gordon Hunt was a journalist with Silicon Republic