We had our third plenary yesterday, hosted at Government Buildings by Dermot McCarthy.
The meeting started with a presentation by Peter O’Neill of the DCENR on the current status of broadband infrastructure in Ireland. Since I have had a personal interest in the broadband infrastructure policy over the last decade, I’ll summarise the broadband discussion from yesterday here, and post the full summary of yesterday’s meeting in a separate article.
Peter noted the enormous growth in mobile broadband over the last 2 years to the current 370,000 subscribers, but however observed that mobile broadband numbers were sometimes not included in international comparative studies of broadband adoption. The majority of broadband connections have now moved on to the 2-10Mbps range, from 1-2Mbps a couple of years ago. Competition is clearly having an impact, with the market share for broadband of the incumbent falling from 46% two years ago to 36% today. 90% of SMEs now using broadband, compared to under 30% five years ago. Even faster broadband speeds, particularly for mobile, are expected shortly. The national broadband scheme, with the contract awarded to 3, will deliver complete 100% national coverage for broadband next year. Project Kelvin is improving our international trunk capacity. The 65 open access MANs are now being used by all the large service providers, with the exception of the incumbent. Retail and business broadband price levels have dropped by 20% over the last two years (during which all prices on average rose 50%). Looking ahead, next generation broadband is planned and a number of regulatory actions are proposed, particularly around open access ducting for fibre optic cables, and a “one stop shop” for service providers. However Peter noted that uptake and adoption of broadband, particularly at higher speeds, still remained a concern for some service providers, particularly in the context of the investment needed for the next generation network.
In the Q&A afterwards, I expressed my genuine and sincere congratulations to the DCENR for the excellent progress over the last decade. I can recall my discussions with Brendan Tuohy, now retired Secretary General, of concerns we both had in the late 1990s on our broadband infrastructure and the lack of competition. The MANs were one outcome, and I served on an advisory committee for Brendan for a time. Our timing was fortuitous, since the telecommunication industry’s crash in the earlier part of this decade allowed us to internationally procure fibre optic cable for the rollout of the MANs at extraordinarily low prices, compared to the shortages of a couple of years earlier.
I also noted that in my view, over the next few years, the provision and adoption of cloud computing based services to the general SME sector will drive broadband adoption and demand for yet higher speeds than currently. I also noted that many of the broadband services we have today are asymmetric, with slower upload speeds than download, and that cloud computing adoption may require that this imbalance be addressed, together with the possible contention problems of sustained access for businesses. Peter noted these comments, and I was left feeling that DCENR have probably not yet appreciated the likely impact of cloud computing on our national broadband architecture.
We also noted how the civil works associated with broadband provision (including ducting) is one example of a direct benefit from the “smart economy” for our wider society via job creation. The ducting work required almost nationwide for next generation broadband will also foster construction sector jobs, and may be combined in some locations with investment in refurbishing our national water infrastructure.
A further point we briefly discussed together was that with the advent of Windows 7 that TV access from laptops, both over the internet but also by TV receivers embedded in laptops, is likely to be available in retail stores across Ireland in the near future. The days of the “TV license inspector” may be severely numbered despite them having heard every excuse in the book, leaving the funding and business model of the public service broadcaster exposed in the short term.