Faster Broadband to More Places, Quicker! – Government convenes CEO Taskforce on High Speed Broadband Rollout
The Next Generational Broadband Taskforce (NGBT) comprises the CEOs of all of the major telecommunications companies currently operating in the Irish market and CEOs of some Internet Service Provider companies. Its purpose is to discuss how best to deliver the optimal policy environment and to identify a roadmap for the speedy delivery of high speed broadband across Ireland. The Minsters are also keen to accelerate private sector investment in this area of critical importance to economic and social development.
Outlining the aims of the group, Minister Rabbitte said “Delivery of high speed broadband to all parts of Ireland is an essential Government priority. It will underpin economic growth and recovery, as well as providing important dividends in terms of education, health and other social benefits. I am confident that we will see rapid progress. Industry is already investing heavily in this area in Ireland, and our aim is to accelerate this investment. We want to encourage companies to work collaboratively across the sector to maximise the roll out of Next Generation infrastructure without compromising the competition that is so vital for innovation. We also want tease out how the State can support industry delivery without cutting across their investment plans”.
The Taskforce will consider issues such as appropriate targets, investment plans, and the role of Government policy and actions in driving and facilitating investment.
Minister O’Dowd, who has responsibility in relation to the Government’s NewERA plan, said “delivery of high speed broadband throughout Ireland is a key commitment under the Government’s NewERA programme, and will contribute to maintaining jobs and economic recovery by creating the necessary infrastructure to support enterprise investment. The work of the Task force will critically inform how best to deliver on this important policy imperative”.
Both Ministers noted that under the Digital Agenda for Europe, the European Commission has set targets of 30mbps broadband to all citizens and 50% of citizens subscribing to 100mbps by 2020. It also commits to universal broadband provision by 2013. The Government funded National and Rural Broadband Schemes are already delivering on this latter objective. The Ministers emphasised that Government policy is now firmly focussed on the delivery of much faster broadband to all regions in Ireland.
A key focus of Ministers’ discussions with industry will be whether the 2020 targets can be delivered earlier, to develop an ambitious roadmap for high speed broadband in Ireland, and what measures can be collectively and individually taken to deliver on that roadmap.
It is intended that the Taskforce will conclude its work by March 2012.
List of Members of the Next Generational Broadband Task Force
Mr. Pat Rabbitte, TD, Minister for Communications, Energy & Natural Resources
Mr. Fergus O’Dowd, TD, Minister of State
Ms. Dana Strong, UPC
Mr. Stephen Shurrock, O2
Mr. Paul Donovan, eircom
Mr. Colm Piercy, Digiweb
Mr. Graham Sutherland, BT
Mr. Jeroen Hoencamp, Vodafone
Mr. Robert Finnegan, “3”
Mr. John Shine, ESB
Mr. Sean Bolger, Imagine
Mr. Conal Henry, e|net
Mr. Aidan Dunning, Secretary General, DCENR
Ms. Katherine Licken, Assistant Secretary
The investment will enable the launch of Ripplecom’s Next Generation Broadband across the 18 counties where Ripplecom provides services. Ripplecom is also simultaneously launching its new Voice services across its customer base.
The core elements of the infrastructure investment, includes the deployment of high speed carrier grade backhaul links and the upgrading of the core network infrastructure.
Commenting on the investment John McDonnell, Ripplecom CEO said: “This investment is the next step in our overall business plan which will produce an additional 25,000 customers over the next four years. In the last twelve months we have doubled our customer base and doubled our staff compliment.”
Mr. McDonnell explained: “There is a tremendous appetite for dependable, high speed broadband within the Irish marketplace and the upgrading will allow us to provide next generation speeds to those who to date, have fallen on the wrong side of the digital divide. ”.
Mr McDonnell noted that the upgrade will enable Ripplecom to roll out a basic broadband package of 8mb/1mb speeds, which will be the fastest widely available package in the country.
“The new infrastructure will support our new bundled internet and voice products. Customers will be able to surf at high speeds and reduce their voice and broadband monthly costs by up to 50%”, he concluded.
Headquartered in Limerick, Ripplecom began trading in 2009 following the merger of two Irish Wireless Internet Service Providers, Amocom and Callidus/Omnitel. In May 2010, the company acquired the broadband network previously operated by Ice Communications Ltd., trading as Ice Broadband.
€ 1 billion has been earmarked today to help rural areas get online, bring new jobs and help businesses grow. On average, 93 % of Europeans can enjoy a high speed online connection but in some countries broadband covers less than half of the rural population (see the table in the annex). Broadband internet connection is expected to create 1 million jobs and boost the EU’s economy by €850 billion between 2006 and 2015.
How can investment in broadband infrastructures stimulate Europe’s economic recovery?
Investment in broadband has a positive impact on economic development, innovation and territorial cohesion. A recent study shows that, assuming a constant adoption rate up to 2015, broadband development will help create around 1 million jobs in Europe and a broadband-related growth of economic activity of € 850 bn between 2006 and 2015.
In areas with a lack of infrastructure, such as less populated areas or remote and isolated rural areas, increased spending on new telecom infrastructure boosts the productivity and employment potential of the local economy. Development and adoption of advanced broadband services help make businesses and public administration more efficient by enabling organisational innovation and facilitating access to markets. The impact on European industry is clearly positive: apart from civil work for networks which has a direct impact on local employment, sales of network equipment will also benefit global European suppliers (like Siemens, Ericsson, Nokia, Alcatel-Lucent), as well as telecoms or satellite operators. And areas with advanced broadband connections will see an increase in demand for products and services.
What is the current state of broadband coverage and speed in Europe?
Broadband access is increasingly widespread in the EU, following substantial EU efforts and a pro-competitive regulatory framework in place since the liberalization of the telecoms sector. In December 2007, broadband connection was available to around 93% of Europeans, mostly in densely populated areas.
However 30% of the EU rural population still has no access to high speed internet.
At the start of 2008, on average, more than half of European users enjoyed advertised internet speeds above 2 Megabits per second, which is considered the minimum to enable advanced services like television over the internet, and about 10% of users had access to more than 10 Megabits per second. This compares favourably with the USA, where 37% of broadband lines offer at least 2.5 Megabits per second and only 4% have speeds equal or above to 10 Megabits per second. These are however "advertised" speeds which overestimate actual speeds. In fact, internet speed worsens when the distance between the exchanges and the location where the user is based is great and/or when several users access the internet simultaneously.
Internet speeds increase with the share of fiber-based high-capacity access technologies. Fiber accounts for 45% of all broadband subscriptions in South Korea and 39% in Japan. These numbers are similar between the EU and the US (1.4% and 1.5% respectively) but much lower than in Asia.
In terms of penetration rate (broadband take up per population), which was 21.7% in EU27 in July 2008, Denmark, The Netherlands, Sweden and Finland lead the rankings in the OECD area penetration rates above 30%. The penetration rate in the US is 25%.
Why is it necessary to spend EU money on broadband investment? Could this not be better done by each Member State?
The EU money will be used in addition to private investments and national funding. It means that rural areas which are not covered by existing plans to roll out or upgrade broadband will be able to participate in the web economy very soon. In particular, this means that areas that are already at an economic disadvantage will be better placed for economic recovery already in 2009.
Which regions in Europe are in a particular need of broadband investment?
European rural areas suffer from much lower coverage rates than urban or suburban areas and this is where the European help should focus. In some countries, even traditional telephone networks are not available in rural areas (in Bulgaria or Romania for example). In others, lack of investment and difficult geographic conditions has limited broadband coverage to less than 50% of the rural population (Greece, Poland, Slovakia). Even countries with a more developed infrastructure still have rural coverage rates below 80%. This is the case of the Czech Republic, Estonia, Ireland, Latvia and Lithuania. Finally, even in the most developed countries (Germany, France, Italy, Austria), there are still areas that, due to their geographical location or mountainous landscapes, do not enjoy the same conditions as the rest of the country.
Finally, these figures relate to the coverage of DSL, which is the most widespread access platform in Europe. But they do not take into consideration people who live too far away from telephone exchanges to have access to DSL. This is around 3% of the population in the EU15 and much more in the new Member States. Thus, there is considerable scope for investment to ensure all Europeans have the right to broadband.
The attached table provides detailed figures on the level of coverage according to the type of area.
Table1: Broadband coverageof population by urbanity, December 2007 (EU27, NO, IS)
|MT||99%||Not relevant||Not relevant||99%|
Data source: IDATE Study “Broadband Coverage in Europe 2008”
Data for urban, suburban areas and for the national average in Bulgaria and Romania are not available. Rural coverage in these countries is 0 and this allows the calculation of rural coverage for EU27 + 2.
How will the €1 bn of EU money reach rural areas with a particular need for broadband investments?
The money will be injected into the existing Rural Development Programmes, which have been drafted and approved on the basis of the rules established for the European Agricultural Fund for Rural Development. This means that no new instrument needs to be created and that they will be managed by the national rural development managing authorities. This will necessitate a modification of the Rural Development Programmes and Member States are called upon to do it by 30 June 2009 to allow projects to be identified and expenditure to be made already in 2009.
The European Council in December asked the Commission to specify concrete projects for investing the €5 bn for infrastructure? Is there such a central list for broadband projects?
It is the responsibility of Member States and regions to select the projects that can best serve their areas following the established eligibility and selection rules within their rural development programmes. Projects are not imposed centrally by Brussels, but selected by the Member States and they should reflect the needs identified at national, regional and local level in the context of the National Strategy Plans for rural development.
What is the next step? Can the money now be paid out or do Parliament and Council first have to give their agreement? How long will it take until the first payments are made?
The legal proposals that the Commission has tabled today will make possible the spending of the €1bn under the European Agricultural Fund for Rural Development and will increase its overall budget by the same amount. The proposal requires the approval by Council. The Commission calls on the Council to adopt these proposals as soon as possible so that money can already be committed in 2009.
How will each Member State apply for this extra funding?
By June 2009 Member States and regions will have to propose a modification of their Rural Development Programme, which have to incorporate the option for investments in broadband infrastructure. Member States and regions can authorise projects from the date of submission of the modification request.
What will be the distribution of funding among the Member States?
The amount of €1bn for broadband to be spent under rural development would be distributed among all Member States on the basis of the current distribution key for the European Agricultural Fund for Rural Development. The distribution process will cover also another €0.5bn that are to be spent under rural development for "new challenges" as identified under the Health-check of the Common Agricultural Policy.
Which is the co-financing rate of a broadband project within Rural Development?
Projects can benefit from higher co-financing rates in 2009:
- 90% in Convergence regions
- 75% in non-Convergence regions
If agreed by the Council, additional co-financing of 10% would also be temporarily possible in 2009 to promote the economic recovery in Member States and ease investments.
What are the types of measures related to broadband that can be supported through Rural Development?
The types of operations that can be supported are:
- Creation of new broadband infrastructure including backhaul facilities (e.g. fixed, terrestrial wireless, satellite-based or combination of technologies);
- Upgrade of existing broadband infrastructure;
- Laying down passive broadband infrastructure (e.g.: civil engineering works such as ducts, and other network elements such as dark fibre, etc.) also in synergy with other infrastructures (energy, transport, water, sewerage networks etc.).
Where can I find the contact details of Rural Development Authorities for my Member State?
Further information on the European Commission’s broadband initiatives at "Bridinging the Broadband Gap" initiative:
European broadband portal:
Micus study, "The impact of broadband on growth and productivity", available at
 “Broadband Coverage” refers to the coverage of DSL networks, the most widespread form of broadband access in Europe, and in particular to the percentage of population depending on a Local Exchange equipped with a DSLAM. Thus, coverage also includes those people (Households or Businesses Units) that reside too far from these switches to be able to purchase a DSL connection even if they wanted to do so. Hence, coverage figures overestimate actual availability.
Chair of IIA Physical Infrastructure Working Group questions Government plans for national broadband
Keith Bohanna, chair of the Irish Internet Association Physical Infrastructure Working Group, questions the rationale behind the Government’s decision to roll out national broadband on the 3G wireless network, describing it as "divorced from reality". The IIA Physical Infrastructure Working Group aims to influence the development of a global class physical internet infrastructure for Ireland.
Bohanna continued in response to the Government’s announcement on Thursday 22nd January 2008, "Mobile internet dongles consistently deliver speeds which would be better described as an "internet connection" than "broadband". The Epitiro 2008 Irish Broadband study included among its recommendations: For end users that desire the best performance, fixed broadband, at its worst, is superior to any mobile broadband."
This is confirmed by the experience of normal Irish mobile internet users. A search of the popular Irish discussion forum Boards.ie contains a discussion which is 389 pages long and focused on the mostly negative experiences of Three mobile broadband dongle users.
This is not acceptable for businesses relying on the national broadband scheme to deliver information about their products to consumers in a variety of media. Current internet trends are for the consumption and production of large amounts of media in forms other than text – for example images and video. The development of these communications channels forms an integral part of the internet presence of businesses with their eye on international markets and an understanding of the modern consumer.
The Minister also declared that the National Broadband scheme would put Ireland "ahead of the rest of the world". In the May 2008 Ireland was in 23rd place in the Information Technology and Innovation Foundation broadband ranking Bohanna cites this as another example of the Government setting unrealistic targets.
In a briefing given by Forfás to the Physical Infrastructure Working Group’s contains further evidence to support the working group’s concerns about the attainability of the National Broadband scheme. The briefing included the following:
"Comparator European nations in the OECD (Denmark, Norway, Sweden, Finland, and The Netherlands) have set ambitious targets and implementation plans to enable the services of the future using a mix of government spending, private investment, and public/private partnerships. In terms of broadband performance it is projected that these leading Western European countries will achieve the following minimum broadband services penetrations, by 2012:
- 50-70 percent of subscribers with speeds in the order of 24 Mbit/s widely available;
- an additional 15-20 percent of subscribers with speeds in the order of 38 Mbit/s; and,
- 10-20 percent of subscribers in these countries with access to 100 Mbit/s-1Gbit/s.
By the same year (2012) Three hope to enhance their service to offer a minimum speed of 2.3Mbit/s. And remember that even that minimum speed will fluctuate widely.
It is possible that our current budgetary position will not allow us to achieve 24Mbit/s on a widespread basis. It is possible that for businesses with dial up the Three dongle will give them a better service than the free market will deliver. Bohanna concludes by asking, "Why can’t it be possible to be honest about what this €223 million programme will actually deliver? Internet connectivity for email and web browsing, not a global standard business broadband service."
Communications Minister Eamon Ryan today announced the National Broadband Scheme, the Government scheme to deliver broadband services throughout the country. Following the conclusion of a competitive tendering process, the Minister has entered into a contract for the delivery of this scheme with ‘3’ (a Hutchinson Whampoa company).
Ireland currently has over 1.2 million subscribers to broadband. The National Broadband Scheme will provide the remaining 10% of our population, or approximately 33% of the area of the country, with broadband services (see attached map). Ireland will have 100% coverage by September 2010; half of the area under the scheme will be covered by the end of this year.
Investment of €223 million from a combination of Exchequer funds, EU co-financing and ‘3’ will create 170 direct jobs. Hundreds more will be protected and created as the availability of broadband increases the investment and enterprise in the targeted areas.
‘3’ will extend its network to provide mobile wireless broadband services into the NBS area. Initially, the service will have a minimum download speed of 1.2 mbps. At least, two upgrades of speeds are planned during the lifetime of the contract. These product upgrades will be carried out at no cost to the customer.
Announcing the scheme, Minister Ryan said, “For too long, rural Ireland has been without this essential service.
Today’s announcement is a boost for the rural economy. Now businesses throughout the country can have ready access to the national and international markets. Employment will be created and sustained. Quality of life will improve for rural residents and communities will be strengthened.
This contract represents real value for public money. I congratulate ‘3’ on winning this contract and look forward to them meeting the challenging, but achievable coverage targets.”
Robert Finnegan Chief Executive of 3 commented: “3 is delighted to have won the NBS tender – it’s great news for 3 and for rural Ireland. We’ll be rolling out our first class broadband network bringing internet services to thousands of homes and businesses across the country. Over five years we’ll be investing 223 million euros and creating around 170 new jobs giving Ireland’s economy a welcome boost. There has never been a more important time for people to get connected as Ireland strives to sharpen its competitiveness. 3 has already played an important part in bringing Ireland up to speed in the broadband league tables and we look forward to further strengthening 3’s market leading position with the most innovative and services and best value price plans available.”
John Kennedy writes in SiliconRepublic about last week’s Congress, “Bartley O’Connor, associate director of PricewaterhouseCoopers in Ireland, said there is a digital divide emerging between businesses that have broadband and those that don’t.” He quotes Bartley as saying ““This is affecting business start-ups, not just end users. There could be hundreds more businesses in the country if not for the lack of broadband. People are losing out.”
We’re acutely aware of this in the IIA. A search of our online member database using the keyword Donegal, for example, shows exactly how few companies in Donegal are members. (Yeeessss ROADTRIP!!) Joking aside the IIA is seeking to address this and other issues by bringing together industry experts, interested parties and stakeholders in Working Groups. In relation to this issue the Infrastructure Working Group are already busy and we expect to see a position paper from them in the near future.
Regardless of the broadband situation, the IIA is a countrywide organisation and the 4th of June will see us not quite in Donegal but in Derry running a course entitled “Making your Web Strategy pay”. This event is sold out but you can catch it again in Belfast on the 5th June.
John Kennedy also writes about how his meeting with Bebo’s Head of Sales Mark Charkin and their new Head of Sales in Ireland Philip Macartney at the IIA Congress. John describes how this pair told him about how they are “forging alliances with major media firms including the BBC, MTV and CBS to drive its monetisation strategy.”