The telecommunications sector and Government are to provide €18m to jointly fund the rollout of broadband to all 4,100 primary and secondary schools in the country by the end of next year, it was confirmed this morning.
As previously reported on siliconrepublic.com, the Government has reached what was described as a voluntary agreement with the telecoms industry to fund the programme.
The Government is to commit €3m, with telcos contributing the remaining €15m. The investment will be made over three years with each telco contributing a proportion based on its turnover. This will mean that Eircom would contribute the lion’s share of the funding, followed by Vodafone and O2.
It is understood the deal was brokered by IBEC’s Telecommunications and Internet Federation (TIF). Tommy McCabe, director of TIF, said the agreement was open to all telecom operators and he expected that most of the telecom operators in Ireland would participate.
The Minister for Communications Marine and Natural Resources, Dermot Ahern TD, and Minister for Education & Science Noel Dempsey TD, have established a working group to manage the procurement of the broadband infrastructure, comprising a central schools Internet network and associated helpdesk system for safety and security. It is expected an invitation to tender will be issued in May with a view to beginning deployment in schools by end 2004.
However, it is unclear how the tendering process will work if companies funding the contract are also among the candidates hoping to pitch for it.
The so-called ‘broadband levy’ on telcos has been a long time coming. Although some telcos initially criticised what they saw as an unfair tax on their businesses, the Government and particularly Minister Ahern stood firm in his determination to push it through.
At the launch today attended by industry executives, Ahern thanked the telecommunications sector for its “vision and tangible support”, adding: “The applications and learning tools which broadband will open to schools everywhere will pay dividends in years to come.”
Minister Dempsey said: “The delivery of broadband to the classroom will significantly enhance the potential of ICT in teaching and learning by facilitating whole class access to a wide range of multimedia applications, much faster download of educational content and online communication and collaboration between school communities.”
The rollout of broadband to schools is seen as a crucial strand in the Department of Education’s strategy of integrating information and communication technology into teaching and learning, and the Department of Communications wider vision of promoting the use of broadband technologies in local communities around the country.
At the launch, the heads of all the main fixed and wireless operators made very positive noises about the broadband for schools plan. Philip Nolan, chief executive of Eircom, commented: “This programme fits very well with Eircom’s strategy of building broadband Ireland. We are committed to bringing broadband to every town in Ireland by March 2005 and including schools in this programme is an extremely important facet.”
Bill Murphy, CEO of Esat BT, added: “I commend both industry and government for working together in moving this forward. We already drive the use of technology in schools through our €1m investment in the Esat BT Young Scientist and Technology Exhibition, so today’s announcement complements our existing commitment to education in Ireland.”
Danuta Gray, CEO of O2, said: “O2 Ireland is committed to making mobile an essential part of the broadband solution in Ireland. Ireland’s youth are the future of the knowledge based economy – making broadband solutions more accessible at an earlier age will ensure Ireland’s ongoing competitiveness on the international stage.”
Vodafone director Gerry Fahy remarked: “IBEC see this as a mould-breaking initiative between industry and Government. Funding the delivery of broadband access to all schools by industry underpins the fostering of a new knowledge based society which can support higher value added jobs and sustain higher levels of economic activity.”
Minister Dempsey also took the opportunity to launch a new set of guidelines, produced by the National Council for Curriculum & Assessment (NCCA), for Teachers in the use of ICT in the Primary Curriculum.
Dempsey said: “The guidelines show how ICT can become a powerful resource when combined with what we know about teaching and learning and provide numerous examples of how children are using these tools to add tremendous value to their learning.”
He added that the guidelines “represent a significant milestone in providing a continuum of support for the use of ICT in schools” and highlighted the priority which his department and the NCCA ascribed to this area.
By Brian Skelly