Communications Minister Noel Dempsey TD this morning set Ireland’s telecoms industry a new target – to have 700,000 broadband subscribers by the end of 2007.
Dempsey was addressing a forum on next-generation networks (NGNs) organised by the Commmission for Communications Regulation (ComReg) and attended by senior executives of the major telecoms operators in Ireland.
On the subject of NGNs, Dempsey said he was looking forward to a time when bandwidth speeds of between 50Mbps and 100Mbps services would be available to every Irish home but that in the interim the telecoms industry should set a target of 15Mbps to 25Mbps speeds to every Irish home.
“The advent of NGNs will turn the entire telecoms market on its head and it will be about more than just fibre but the emergence of a host of services connected by dedicated networks.”
He said that the advent of NGNs will have important implications for ComReg and telecoms competition.
“Ireland has to be ready for change. We can’t afford to delay development of a fully competitive market for NGNs. We will need to plan ahead and think logically and creatively. It will require open access for competitors and opening minds up to possibilities,” Dempsey said, referring to the slow progress of LLU (local loop unbundling) that cannot be allowed to happen with NGN.
The entire subject of NGN emerged when Eircom revealed that it plans to invest €60m in fibre-enabling the company’s core network. This, however, has sparked fears amongst companies that have put equipment into local exchanges that they might be left with “stranded assets”.
Speaking to siliconrepublic.com this week, Eircom’s chief technology officer Geoff Shakespeare said that Eircom would open its NGN up to competition and that it would seek to avoid a similar situation to that of Germany where a “regulatory holiday” agreed between Deutsche Telekom and the German government has led to the EU taking legal action.
Addressing telecom companies this morning, Dempsey said: “Commercial operators will have focus on growing market share but primary focus should be on growing the market itself.
“We need to guard against risks. Very specifically we don’t want to replicate the problems of the past. We need to ensure that Irish businesses and companies have choice and that competitive policies and practices are being offered.”
Dempsey acknowledged that on the broadband front the country needs to raise its game and “move from where we are fighting over issues of the past and work towards the networks of the future”.
“Everybody should have access to high-bandwidth services,” he said. “Businesses should be free to choose to base themselves outside the large urban areas.”
He said that the Telecoms bill that will give additional powers to ComReg is in its second stages and will be passed by the Oireachtas before Easter.
In terms of Ireland’s broadband targets, Dempsey said that when he took on the role of Minister for Communications he set a target of having 400,000 broadband subscribers in Ireland by the end of 2006.
He said that the forthcoming quarterly report from ComReg will reveal that there were 510,000 subscribers in place by the end of 2006.
“I am setting a new challenge to the industry to reach 700,000 by the end of this year,” Dempsey told operators.
He added that the successor to the Group Broadband Scheme – the National Broadband Scheme – will work towards ensuring that every home and business in Ireland will be able to receive broadband regardless of location.
He also revealed that he is assembling an advisory committee on broadband that will meet on a bi-monthly basis with the objective of delivering a blueprint for broadband rollout by the end of this year.
By John Kennedy