Monday, June 23, 2008

Ireland - broadband

Strategy aims for total broadband coverage in State

IRELAND WILL have "ubiquitous" broadband coverage by the end of next year and will enjoy broadband speeds that will be among the highest in Europe by 2012, according to a Government strategy to be announced next week.

The "Next Generation" broadband strategy will be published on July 3rd by Minister for Communications Eamon Ryan. An internal Department of Communications document seen by The Irish Times says the aim of the strategy will be to have "ubiquitous access to broadband by 2009".

It continues: "By 2012 speeds equivalent to or higher than that in competitor EU regions will be available over a variety of platforms."

The paper concedes these targets are challenging, as 40 per cent of the population live in rural areas and fewer than 10 per cent live in apartments, unlike many European countries where populations tend to live in densely-populated urban environments.

Another innovation, according to the paper, will be the separation of services from the network used to deliver these services. Mr Ryan strongly suggested at a telecoms industry event last month that his preference was for such open-ended networks through which all operators could provide services.

Next week's launch comes four months after Mr Ryan convened a group of international experts to advise him on the strategy.

Among the issues considered was whether the Government should fund the development of next-generation broadband or whether it should allow the roll-out to be led by the private sector, with State funding being provided only for areas that might be ignored.

The experts also advised the department on the relative merits of fixed and wireless services for the delivery of the fastest-possible and cheapest-possible broadband.

While broadband take-up continues to grow quickly in Ireland, the last benchmarking update by Forfás at the end of 2007 showed that broadband penetration in Ireland still lagged behind the OECD average, and that there remained a limited range and speed of broadband services. It showed that the fastest speed widely available of six megabytes per second costs four to five times more than much higher-speed services in countries such as France, Germany and Hungary.

The procurement process to roll out broadband under the National Broadband Scheme to the remaining 10 per cent of the State is currently on hold due to a High Court challenge to the process.

Fine Gael's communications spokesman Simon Coveney has been a consistent critic of Mr Ryan's broadband policies.

Mr Coveney has said that Mr Ryan has not moved quickly enough to make good the deficit, pointing to statistics that shows Ireland lying 20th out of 30 OECD countries for penetration and 33rd out of 35 countries for speed.

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