The Information Society Commission (ISC) has published a new report on broadband in which it calls for a national broadband strategy to be urgently developed, and for Communications Minister Dermot Ahern TD to be given responsibility for it.
The programme should have clear delivery targets and timelines as well as adequate resources to ensure its implementation, the report says. This should include the provision of a multi-annual budget to ensure stability and political responsibility for all aspects of its implementation.
The report, Ireland’s Broadband Future, was launched at Government buildings by Minister Ahern, who announced an ambitious new programme to extend broadband connectivity to a further 80 towns across Ireland, in addition to the 19 covered by the Metropolitan Area Networks (MANs).
“This report underlines how vitally important broadband is to all of our futures,” he said. “Today I am outlining a significant Government investment programme in making broadband available to thousands of people throughout the country.”
Speaking at the launch, the chairperson of the ISC’s Broadband Working Group, Dr Patricia O’Hara, commented: “This report shows four things clearly. Firstly, widespread availability of affordable broadband services is crucial for Ireland’s competitiveness, and our recent slippage in international rankings is worrying. Secondly, broadband can deliver tangible benefits in terms of jobs, GNP growth and welfare. Thirdly, there is clear evidence of market failure in that the supply market is failing to meet actual and latent demand; and fourthly, there is a strong geographic digital divide in Ireland. The fact is that there are no services or competition in most parts of the country.”
She continued: “Government must act urgently to revive and reinvigorate its commitment to the information society by accelerating the rollout to towns (the MANs programme), fostering real competition, stimulating the market and closely monitoring progress.”
The report welcomes progress to date in the Metropolitan Area Networks (MANs) but expresses concern about delays in the establishment of the Managed Service Entity and lack of clarification on further phases of the MANs rollout.
The ISC also recommends that ComReg review the pricing of leased lines with a view to finding ways of cutting the retail price to customers in order to improve market conditions and reduce Eircom’s market power.
If additional legislation is required to deliver any of the recommendations, then it should be fast tracked as a government priority, the report recommends.
The report was commissioned by the ISC from Sonas Innovation and Peter Bacon and Associates.
By Brian Skelly