Technology

White launches consultation on new broadband intervention strategy

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eolas unpacks the Government’s roadmap towards achieving 100 per cent high speed broadband access in Ireland by 2020.

The Minister for Communications, Alex White has launched ‘Connecting Communities’ a public consultation on a new broadband intervention strategy aimed at extending superfast broadband access to those parts of the country which don’t already have it, and where it is not currently commercially viable for private sector providers. The proposed intervention is part of Ireland’s overarching National Broadband Plan and the public consultation runs until 14 September 2015.

The draft strategy has been produced following extensive dialogue with the European Commission over what kind of State-aid is allowable in the Government’s planned intervention. The strategy document itself is accompanied by seven expert reports on specific aspects of the intervention including funding and governance.

Essentially the strategy is aimed at achieving 100 per cent high speed broadband access in Ireland by 2020 and 85 per cent by 2018. To do this the Government will have to intervene to either achieve further penetration by direct State provision or by subsidising or stimulating further market penetration by private sector players. Overall, the private sector stimulus model is preferred in the consultation document.

‘Connecting Communities’ also usefully defines and maps out the area still to be serviced with high speed broadband, both in terms of geography and customer profile. It includes some 1.8 million citizens (38 per cent of the population) and 94 per cent of all farms – which shows the scale of the challenge in rural Ireland. In launching the strategy Minister White emphasised not only the scale of the work yet to be done to achieve the ambitious targets, but highlighted the substantial work already done in recent years: “In 2010 before this Government came to office, high speed broadband was only available to 300,000 homes in Ireland. That figure has grown to over a million homes, with the potential for commercial operators to deliver high speed services to as many as 1.9 million commercial premises”.

NBP Strategy Info graphic A3_WEB

The consultation paper also puts a strong emphasis on arriving at stimulus arrangements that deliver high quality affordable outcomes for customers. The requirements are also defined for network quality including minimum speeds and the need to ensure consistency of service quality across the country. There is the related governance concern that whatever contractors are appointed by the Government they must keep separate their government-subsidised business from their other commercial activities in the competitive sector.

The draft strategy also sets out its view of who will benefit most and points to substantial benefits accruing to different sectors of the economy as well as individual households and businesses.

Overall, it looks like the Government is really keen to get on with it: The Minister has indicated that after taking account of the consultation responses in the autumn, the Department for Communications, Energy and Natural Resources will be ready to commence the procurement process by the end of the year, with the successful contractors appointed early in 2016.

Minister White was certainly not underselling the scale of the proposed intervention, saying: “It is akin to rural electrification, which brought power to every citizen in the last century. Connecting our communities through high speed broadband has the same potential to open up opportunities and improve living standards for all our people”.

Intervention strategy: Expert reports
The seven expert reports accompanying the draft intervention strategy cover:
1. Broadband Strategy for Ireland
2. National Broadband Plan, Cost-Benefit Analysis
3. State Aid compliance Report
4. Ownership report
5. Funding Report
6. Governance report
7. Technical report
The reports are available at www.dcenr.gov.ie.

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