Eircom scores own goal with broadband boast, say critics

18 Nov 2004

Eircom claims to have signed up 100,000 broadband customers but critics have slammed the announcement as an “embarrassment” in terms of the country’s adoption of fast internet access. It has also emerged that other internet service providers helped Eircom’s wholesale department to attain this figure.

The former state telco revealed the total as part of a pitchside advertising campaign at Tuesday’s soccer international between Ireland and Croatia. The company had claimed that it would reach this target before the end of the year.

However, Eircom did not achieve this figure all by itself; the company’s retail division and Eircom Net, its internet service provider arm, contributed approximately 75,000. The remainder came from other operators that supply DSL to their own customer base by reselling access provided through Eircom’s wholesale division. Esat BT for example is understood to have delivered 20,000 of these customers and other ISPs including UTV Internet and Netsource would have accounted for other amounts to bring the total to 100,000.

It is understood that there may be a further 15,000 Irish users of broadband in the wider sense of the term, who connect to the internet at high speeds via leased lines, satellite, cable modem or fixed wireless access. However as these services are supplied by other providers and do not use DSL, Eircom cannot claim them as wholesale customers.

Eircom’s broadband product is Digital Subscriber Line or DSL, which delivers internet access over existing copper wire phone lines at much faster speeds than dialup.

Fintan Lawler, head of Eircom Net, the telco’s internet service provider division, nonetheless called the figure “an important milestone for the company and for the internet in Ireland”. In July of last year, the broadband penetration rate stood at just 10,000 users and the company stated on several occasions since that it would meet the target of 100,000 by December of this year.

According to Eircom commercial director David McRedmond, the company plans to make an announcement on further targets in the near future. He added that the extensive TV and radio advertising for Eircom broadband was “benefiting everybody”, including other suppliers.

Aidan Whyte, a spokesman with the internet pressure group IrelandOffline criticised the figures: “This ‘milestone’ still leaves Ireland languishing in 18th position of 21 OECD countries for broadband penetration. Eircom should not be congratulating itself on achieving a thoroughly substandard goal.”

Various estimates exist as to Ireland’s exact broadband penetration rate although most observers agree that it has been extremely low to date, particularly when compared to other countries. Recent research from Amarach found that 10pc of home internet users currently connect to the internet over DSL and 33pc of business internet users do so. IrelandOffline claims that Ireland has 7pc takeup of households, a figure the group described as “dismal”. In pure percentage terms, 100,000 subscribers equates to approximately 2.5pc of the entire population of the state.

Earlier this week the Information Society Commission warned that Ireland would not meet the Government’s stated target of being in the top decile of OECD countries for broadband by the middle of next year. The group also expressed concern that the DSL option may not be able to deliver sufficient capacity over the longer term and recommended maintaining investment in a variety of broadband options to maximise competition and to avoid over-dependence on any one technology platform.

By Gordon Smith