When the first Digital Connectivity Strategy for Ireland was approved by government in December 2022, the country began its journey towards reliable high-speed internet access across Ireland by 2028, writes Minister of State with responsibility for Communications and the Circular Economy, Ossian Smyth TD.
The Government is committed to a fast-paced digital transformation. Our new national digital strategy, Harnessing Digital: Digital Ireland Framework is driving this digital transition across the Irish economy and society. The Digital Ireland Framework builds on the learnings from our pandemic experience, not least our increasing reliance on digital connectivity across all facets of our individual and collective lives.
While digital connectivity across the State is being delivered primarily through the commercial investment of the telecommunications industry, this is being complemented by the roll out of fibre, across mainly rural areas, under the state-subsidised National Broadband Plan (NBP).
We can be proud of the progress to date of the NBP Programme. This is the largest infrastructure project since rural electrification and represents a massive investment by the State in our digital infrastructure and future capabilities. It will ensure that high-speed broadband is available to all premises in the intervention area, including all our islands, no later than 2027.
Where it is not economically viable for commercial operators, the NBP has stepped in and will deliver high-speed broadband to 96 per cent of Ireland’s land mass, covering 23 per cent of Ireland’s population living in the most rural and remote areas, which includes 69 per cent of our farms. It is expected that over 600,000 premises, including new builds, will be passed during the lifetime of the programme with the network offering a minimum download speed of 500Mbps from the outset, while also future-proofed to deliver up to 10Gbps speeds.
The many benefits of digital connectivity include more flexible and remote working and new job opportunities; new markets and customers for businesses; more efficient and accessible public services for all and empowerment and choice in how we learn or participate in social activities. It is vital that these benefits can be enjoyed equally by everyone across the country, regardless of where they live or work. Implementation of the NBP programme will go a long way towards ensuring people in rural communities and remote locations have equal access to the opportunities presented by reliable, high-speed internet access.
“Over the last three years there has been rapid expansion of gigabit capability in every county across Ireland. 70 per cent of households across the country can now access a broadband speed of one gigabit or more.”
Minister of State with responsibility for Communications and the Circular Economy, Ossian Smyth TD
The Digital Connectivity Strategy for Ireland sets out the targets to be achieved by the telecommunications sector in providing digital connectivity across the State and identifies the key strategic enablers for ensuring these targets are met.
Our targets include providing all households and businesses in the country with access to gigabit connectivity by 2028. By the end of 2023, digital connectivity will see every school connected to the network. By the end of this decade, all populated areas will have 5G coverage. These initiatives are a gamechanger for enabling people to live, work, and connect with others, no matter where they live.
Our targets can be achieved through the realisation of key enablers including the National Broadband Plan, commercial investment in gigabit services, the National Cyber Security Strategy, upgrading international connectivity infrastructure to and from Ireland, transposing the Communications Regulation Amendment Bill and implementing the actions of the Mobile Phone and Broadband Taskforce.
The principles which guide the Digital Connectivity Strategy include ensuring our regulatory framework encourages investment, promotes infrastructure competition, and supports innovation in emerging technologies. The delivery of the strategy will see the State intervene, where appropriate, and where the market fails to deliver or where the timeframe of the delivery does not meet the needs of the State. By being robust in our ambition, we will make sure that digital connectivity leaves no one behind.
Progress to date is strong. Over the last three years there has been rapid expansion of gigabit capability in every county across Ireland. 70 per cent of households across the country can now access a broadband speed of one gigabit or more. Over 12,000 connections to full fibre are being made per month with ComReg, the communications regulator, reporting a 2.2 per cent year-on-year increase in full fibre subscriptions. This clearly demonstrates the momentum being gained now by our fibre roll out. Implementation of the NBP contract is on track with National Broadband Ireland (NBI) reporting over 54,000 fibre-to-the-premises connections completed and over 182,000 premises passed in the intervention area as of September 2023.
The recent transposition of the European Electronic Communications Code will see the State guarantee all citizens access to adequate broadband at an affordable price under the universal service obligations for broadband.
Other priorities include developing direct international connectivity links to the rest of Europe; ensuring 5G spectrum continues to be made available, promoting research and innovation in emerging technologies and leveraging pilot and test networks available across the State.
We are leading many of our European neighbours in digital connectivity and are ahead of the EU27 average for gigabit connectivity. This is good news for competitivity at home and abroad, enabling businesses to reach a wider market, while reducing costs and improving productivity.
Implementation of our Digital Connectivity Strategy will support more balanced regional development as well as the green transition, through implementation of the Government’s remote working strategy, Our Rural Future: Rural Development Policy 2021-2025, Project Ireland 2040 and facilitating greater access to regional talent and skills.
We have made huge strides over a very short number of years and are well on our way to realising our shared goal of a truly connected society and to the implementation of our Digital Connectivity Strategy by 2030. Our future is indeed bright. We can be confident that the significant investment to date in enhancing our digital capabilities will ensure we remain at the forefront of European and global digital developments.