Communications Minister Noel Dempsey TD has warned that the construction of a next-generation network (NGN) serving Ireland is now a national priority and said the construction of an NGN as a strategic national asset by the State is one option being considered.
Dempsey told the Forfas Broadband Future forum that to continue on the current path of operators reselling bitstream DSL or awaiting local loop unbundling (LLU) would be disastrous for Ireland as a country and an economy.
“Time is running out. Other countries are moving ahead. We have to act smarter and faster if we are to have a state-of-the-art telecommunications infrastructure in place in this country to continue on the path of economic and social prosperity,” Dempsey said.
“A small open economy like ours will only continue to prosper if we leapfrog from our current position to being on a par with the best of our international competitors.
“Without a world-class telecommunications sector we will not continue on the path of prosperity. We must progressively move to an IP [internet protocol]-based NGN. We haven’t the luxury of endless discussions, task forces or inter-departmental groups,” he warned.
Dempsey’s move comes just weeks after Eircom said it was investing €60m in putting fibre into its core network, a vital step towards the creation an NGN. Eircom’s overall network investment in the years ahead could reach €1bn.
However, Dempsey said there are three options facing Ireland. The first is to continue with the present status quo, which he warned “would be disastrous for us as a country and as an economy”. The second option, he said, is that “we decide that an NGN is a strategic national asset that should be provided by the State on an open access basis and with a regulated rate of return”.
The third option, Dempsey stated, is that “we look at what we have, private and State owned, and see if we can create an infrastructure that reaches all with open access for all players and a regulated rate of return for those willing to collaborate in the national interest.”
Dempsey called for discussion on these options to quickly decide the best course of action.
“I am determined that nothing will get in the way of this. We have some way to go to achieve these goals but I believe that they can be achieved.”
Dempsey’s call to action comes just a week after the EU revealed that Ireland is still trailing its European neighbours in 20th place in the overall European ranking on broadband. As of October, the country at 10.5pc of its population accessing broadband compared with the European average of 15.7pc.
“Despite the late start, the news on broadband is good,” he opined. “The latest quarterly report from ComReg [Commission for Communications Regulation] shows there were more than 517,000 broadband customers by the end of 2006. The last quarter of 2006 saw the highest number of new subscribers added in any single period since the launch of broadband services in Ireland.
“Almost 81,000 subscriptions were added between October and December 2006. Only two years ago the number of broadband subscribers stood at 60,000. We are experiencing rapid growth in this area but the time has come to move Ireland to the next level in telecommunications service delivery,” Dempsey urged.
By John Kennedy