Firstly feedback on some of the Government Commitments:
1. A breakdown of the €435M would be necessary before any judgement can be made on it’s relevance. Across 7 years this is €62M a year – a very small amount in the context of investment in other essential infrastructure. If this includes planned investment in Metropolitan Area Networks(MAN’s), the National Broadband Scheme and Broadband to Schools then there will be little left over for anything else.
2. This pledge of universal access does not address the cost issue for people not serviced by more than one provider. It is difficult to see this happening by 2010 given the probable need to build out infrastructure to support it. And the speed target of 2012 of being equal to “comparator EU regions” is unambitious – do we not want to establish leadership in this area?
3. This aim is meaningless for the majority of schools who do not fall within the HEANet/MAN infrastructure that will be used to deliver this. How is it proposed to deliver a 100Mbits to those schools? And phased means forever and ever ( or never).
This announcement happens 2 weeks after 18 school ICT advisers around the country were told by the Department of Education that they are being sent back to their classrooms from their secondment and coincides with the ongoing absence of the National Development Plan Schools ICT strategy (announced by the Government in February 2007). Is the intended €252m investment under the Schools ICT plan now part of the €435M?
4. Value for money is vital – but must be balanced against the need for intervention in an area which is speculative – in the same way that we invested in our education system in the 60’s and 70’s which reaped long term benefits in the Celtic Tiger era.
5. Hard to tell what this means.
6. The commitments on backhaul mean that the Minister will have to establish an organisation (another quango?) which either facilitates negotiations with a multiplicity of semi-state bodies or instead takes a direct interest in elements of their assets. It would be optimistic to say that could be hideously slow.
9. This statement is meaningless without some indication of what exactly is meant by it. Is the Minister going to make fundamental changes to the procedures followed, and responsibilities held, by existing purchasing sections across all Departments?
Feedback on other areas of the document:
It is worth noting that a number of the commitments will mean substantial initiatives being driven from this Department. This is the same Department which lacks the basic manpower necessary to administer the National Broadband Scheme – this information was obtained by the Irish Times and also Damien Mulley using Fredom Of Information.
From the documents obtained:
“Various recent developments have given rise to extreme pressure on existing staff within my area . . . again, due to the existing bar on recruitment of new resources to the department, I have no civil servant working on the National Broadband Scheme.” – January 2008 memo from Mr Spratt to Assistant Secretary Peter O’Neill and human resources department requesting additional resources
In a section on Potential Uses of next generation broadband (Page 6) the issue of demand stimulation is covered. However there is no mention of the build out of Government/State services here (although it is referred to on Page 41). This is a tricky area and again would mean leadership being shown and a need for cross-Department cooperation.
The section on International NGN developments is interesting in that it does not include any reference to the existing European NGN networks in Scandinavia (maybe because they have a lower population density than Ireland and thus would not suit the case being made here?).
In addition only passing reference is made to the fact that in many countries who are world leaders in this area (Japan is named here) their broadband policies are only a small part of their overall ICT development policies so that they have a strong context.
Unfortunately in Ireland we appear to be developing the broadband plan first and the ICT plan (from which the broadband plan should be taken) second.
In the NGN developments in Ireland section (Page 21) there is an telling omission. At the end of the third paragraph it says: “This strategy of focussing on the residential market appears to reflect the fact that, in general, the requirements of large corporate users are adequately addressed through existing market mechanisms”.
Although this is merely commentary on the marketplace where are the small to medium businesses in all of this? They make up over 97% of our businesses and employ more than half of our private sector work force and yet do not have access to the broadband services available to large corporates. They make do with barely ramped up domestic offerings coupled with indifferent customer service.
This is a market failure and it is not explicitly addressed here.
The section which analyses the Possible Government policy approaches (Page 33) appears to make sense. However the context here is the budget of €435M available – this does not actually allow for Approach 1 (direct Government support) to be considered as a option on cost grounds so it is little surprise that it is discounted in favour of “providing a competitive environment to spur innovation and investment”. Considerably cheaper!
Also in this section the challenges around the business model for the MAN’s is acknowledged yet there is no explicit suggestion on the changes that maybe made to improve this situation.
UPDATE – Consultant paper here (2Mb download)
Keith Bohanna, Chair of the IIA Physical Infrastructure Working group