TIF chairman raises spectre of net neutrality for NGN rollout

10 May 2010

Online publishing giants Google, Microsoft and Facebook among others may be asked to support the rollout of next-generation broadband networks in Ireland if a suggestion by the new chairman of the Telecommunications and Internet Federation (TIF) gains ground.

The thorny subject of net neutrality was raised at the Telecommunications and Internet Federation Ball on Friday evening, where it has been suggested that online publishing giants like Google and Facebook could be asked to support the rollout of next-generation networks in Ireland.

The new TIF chairman, managing director of wholesale at Eircom, John McKeon, today called on network operators, content providers, the Government and the regulator to work together to overcome the obstacles to building a next-generation access network (NGN) for Ireland.

McKeon said that a recent TIF report estimated that a national broadband network would cost around €2.5bn to build.

“To justify the business case, the industry must work together, public policy and regulation must be supportive and the value distribution/net neutrality debate needs to be addressed. While resolving these issues is not sufficient on its own, it is a necessary first step.”

Two decades

McKeon said it would take 20 years of revenues for the telecoms industry to repay the cost of the €2.5bn investment that is needed, not to mention cover operating and financing costs or pay a return to investors.

“Do we really want to say to our children and future generations that we did not build the network that would have helped to safeguard their futures and the economic prosperity of their island because we couldn’t make a business case?

“And to our public policy makers and regulatory authorities I would ask: are you sure that you are doing everything you can to help support the Irish telecommunications industry to make the business case and draw in the funds from our investors? Funds, which if secured, will provide a great opportunity not only to support the long-term prosperity of our economy but, in the short term, will lead to the creation of hundreds of jobs in the construction of the network.”

McKeon said a number of ways forward could be established from industry collaboration to pro-investment public policy and regulation, a theme at the heart of Digital Britain architect Lord Stephen Carter at last year’s TIF Conference in Dublin.

On the controversial subject of net neutrality McKeon said: “There is the theme of value realisation – who benefits and who pays.

“In other words, and I’ll say this loudly and without apology, the topic of net neutrality – in a world where the tangible monetary benefit of broadband networks flows to those who use the networks to publish and distribute content, the Googles and the Microsofts and so on of this world – is it not fair that these publishers and content owners should pay at least part of the cost of building, operating and maintaining these networks?

“Now I know that this is a contentious issue and that those who raise it are accused of trying to censor the internet but that is not the case; on the contrary we seek to find a way to sustain the internet on a solid foundation, a foundation built on the basis of an equitable return to all those who participate, and invest, in the value chain,” McKeon said.

By John Kennedy

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