In an apparent admission of failure, the Government has dramatically rowed back on its own broadband targets, siliconrepublic.com has learned.
In his recent Policy Directions to ComReg, Communications Minister Dermot Ahern defined the Government’s main broadband goal as “to be at, or better than, the EU average for end-user access to and usage of broadband by mid 2005.” Previously, however, the Government’s primary broadband target has been that Ireland be ‘within the top decile [ie, 10pc] of OECD countries for broadband connectivity by 2005’ (Information Society Commission: Ireland’s Broadband Future, Dec 2003).
This would put it on a par with countries like Korea (21.3pc broadband penetration), Canada (11.2pc), Sweden (7.8pc) and the US (6.9pc) (International Telecommmunication Union, Birth of Broadband report, Sept 2003). In fact, broadband penetration in Ireland stands at just 0.25pc.
A spokesperson for the Department for Communications said the Government stood by its objective of putting Ireland among the top ten OECD countries for broadband penetration but conceded that the timeframe had proven “unrealistic”. He commented: “Instead of setting a goal that we might not have be able to achieve, we’re setting a goal that we can achieve. The timeframe has changed but the goal is the same: we want to be among the top ten OECD countries.”
The discrepancy between the old and new Government positions is highlighted by Eircomtribunal, the vociferous lobby group, on its latest web blog (www.comwreck.com/blog_9_feb10.html). The blog claims that the new target for broadband is not a target at all because by mid 2005 – the objective’s set deadline – nine new Eastern European countries will have joined the EU, dragging the EU average way down. Were EU enlargement not to happen, this objective would have been much more taxing, the group claims.
For example, in July 2003, the EU average broadband penetration (broadband connections per 100 people) was 4.65pc. If Ireland were to achieve the equivalent level of penetration – even assuming that the average did not rise further in the meantime – it would need to install 186,000 DSL lines or equivalent, such as wireless or satellite. As of last July, however, fewer than 10,000 broadband connections had been made in the Irish Republic – 5,370 DSL lines and 4,100 other broadband systems (EU Commission: Broadband Access in the EU, July 2003).
The Department of Communications spokesperson denied that the Government was using enlargement to lower its broadband targets. “The objective would have stood if even there was no enlargement,” he said. “And I wouldn’t characterise all accession countires as [backward] – some of them are more advanced than us,” he said.
The spokesperson reiterated the Government’s commitment to broadband. “[Minister Ahern] has driven the broadband agenda non-stop. We are running to catch up but we’ve made massive strides in the last six months. There were a lot of logjams in the system – such as pricing – but these are being removed.”
In ‘Ireland’s Broadband Future’, the Information Society Commission draws attention to Ireland’s fanciful broadband objectives, saying that there would need to be a fiftyfold increase in the number of broadband connections in Ireland by March 2005 in order to reach the top-end forecast for the EU as a whole -12pc. The report further projects that, assuming that broadband is freely availably at an economic price, the proportion of Irish households to have high-speed internet access by 2007 would still be no more than 9pc.
By Brian Skelly
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