The Government has called on a US consultant to take a fresh look at its plans for rolling out a national broadband infrastructure.
Ira Magaziner, one-time Bill Clinton aide, has been asked for an overview of the existing strategy and to help plot the best way forward. He will present his findings to an inter-departmental broadband committee at the end of November where he is expected to deliver his verdict on the delivery programme and the technology the Government is using.
“He will be proofing what Ireland is doing against best international practice,” says a spokesperson for the Department for Communications.
The review comes as the tendering process for building a fibre optic ring around 19 Irish towns nears completion. This phase of the rollout will continue as planned but the broader strategy of laying down 50,000km of fibre over the next 6-18 months is no longer guaranteed.
According to the spokesperson, the review is less about broad policy strokes and more of a look at technology and usage, weighing up the pros and cons of wireless as opposed to asymmetric digital subscriber line (ADSL), for example. Wireless is looked at as an increasingly cost-effective way of delivering broadband to more sparsely populated parts of the country.
The review comes at a time when there has been much speculation about public spending cuts affecting the broadband rollout. The Government had pledged to make high-speed access widely available in Ireland within three years.
Magaziner recently visited Ireland and it has been suggested that his astonishment at the lack of flat-rate internet access was what prompted the Minister for Communications, Dermot Ahern TD, to make it “an absolute priority” for his department.
Ira Magaziner was former US president Bill Clinton’s chief internet policy advisor and in 1988 he was on a telecoms advisory group to the Irish Government. Today, he is president of business strategy consulting at SJS Advisors in the US.
By Ian Campbell