The Irish telecoms sector should aim to achieve 500,000 broadband connections by the middle of next year, the Minister for Communications, Marine and Natural Resources Noel Dempsey TD told a broadband conference yesterday.
He also revealed a plan is being prepared for the last 15pc of the country without broadband.
In an interview with siliconrepubublic.com in recent weeks Dempsey said he was confident that the target he laid down two years ago — 400,000 connections by the end of 2006 — would be comfortably exceeded by Christmas.
Addressing the ‘Facilitating Broadband Leadership’ conference organised jointly by his department and the Commission for Communications Regulation (ComReg), Minister Dempsey said that two years ago the official number of broadband subscribers stood at 56,000.
He pointed to the latest figures from ComReg which show that over 100,000 new broadband connections were made in the first half of this year and the increase per month is still around 17,000.
Today, he said, Ireland has 410,000 broadband subscribers. “This means almost 30pc of households now have a broadband service,” he claimed.
Congratulating the industry on achieving this milestone, he argued that the momentum should be sustained.
“We should not settle for meeting a target set two years ago. My challenge to industry at that conference still stands and we should aim to reach 500,000 by the middle of next year. This is ambitious but achievable.
“But it is not enough to just make broadband available, we need to start demonstrating what broadband can do for those who may not have considered getting broadband before,” he said, referring to the growing problem of encouraging demand for broadband services.
On the subject of stimulating demand, he continued: “Too many people see broadband as the same old internet, just a bit faster. It is much more. Broadband opens up whole new worlds and services.”
Dempsey also touched on the still unresolved issue of static PC growth in Ireland. “The challenge as I see it is to get people to buy into the technology. There are around 40pc of home in this country that do not have a PC, for varying different reasons.
“We, the Government and key players, must demonstrate to the other 40pc that not embracing these new opportunities puts them at a major disadvantage and will deprive them of many incredibly useful services. We cannot let a significant section of the country lag behind as the rest of us race on and we should not accept any sort of digital divide,” Dempsey said.
Responding to calls by the telecoms industry for the Government to address the final 15pc of the country that cannot get broadband, Dempsey said that he was indeed preparing a solution to the problem.
He said: “I am initiating a process that will address the so called last 15pc issue to deliver nationwide broadband. Which will mean that every reasonable request for broadband can be met at a reasonable price. This solution can use all technologies including wireless to reach those customers where fixed-line provisioning can’t work.
“I will be discussing this matter further with ComReg before finalising the shape of any competition. I do not think that achieving this should be either impossible or overly time consuming,” the Minister said.
By John Kennedy