North-South ministers discuss all-island broadband

25 Jul 2003

Communications minister Dermot Ahern TD yesterday met his Northern Ireland counterpart Ian Pearson to discuss energy and communications services as part of the Digital Island discussions between the two governments.

The two minister addressed the barriers for businesses in exploiting the newly emerging digital technologies. They recognised that the level of cross-border data and mobile tariffs were a key deterrent to all-island business.

Minister Ahern said: “The market place has already made the right moves on the cost of telephone calls across Ireland, which are priced at a national rate. There are benefits for both telcos and business in establishing similar all-island tariffs for mobile and data telecommunications.” Earlier this week, O2 introduced an All Ireland roaming product that enabled businesses north and south to enjoy the same tariffs.

It was recognised that such a move by the market would also overcome many of the practical problems caused by the roaming of mobile calls in the border regions.

Both ministers acknowledged that a study commissioned under the Digital Island Initiative would examine the barriers to all-island e-business. “We look forward to the results of the Digital Island investigations, due in October, which will clarify the important roles government, regulators and telecommunications operators can play in ensuring businesses have the best environment to compete not only across Ireland but internationally,” Minister Ahern said.

While the Dublin government is investing €65m to roll out broadband rings to 19 key towns, it is clear that the Northern Ireland government is taking a more ambitious step forward in this area. Yesterday, it announced plans to end the “digital divide” between those city dwellers who have access to affordable broadband internet, and those who live the in country who mostly do not, by claiming it will introduce 100pc broadband coverage throughout the province.

By John Kennedy