Wednesday, September 05, 2012

Delivering a Connected Society: A National Broadband Plan for Ireland

Last week, Ireland's Department of Communications, Energy and Natural Resources published Delivering a Connected Society, a National Broadband Plan for Ireland (press release here, with coverage from Silicon Republic herehere, here and here).

The plan's targets are ambitious in comparison with the UK's 2Mbps everywhere / >24Mbps for 90% targets for 2015, and are ahead of the EU's 2020 Digital Agenda targets too:
  • 70Mbps - 100Mbps to more than half of the population by 2015;
  • At least 40Mbps, and in many cases much faster speeds, to at least a further 20% of the population and potentially as much as 35% around smaller towns and villages; and
  • A minimum of 30Mbps for every remaining home and business in the country – no matter how rural or remote.
The plan follows the publication of the report of Ireland's Next Generation Broadband Taskforce in May 2012. As in the UK, the Irish Government will only invest in areas where the market will not deliver:
"This Plan will deliver on these targets by leveraging investment from both the private and public sectors. The total funding involved for any State intervention is indicatively estimated at €350 million, €175 million of which will come from public funding sources with the other €175 million from the successful commercial bidder(s) emerging from a public procurement process. State funding will only arise where it is clear that the market will not deliver. The precise cost to the State will be subject to the outcome of the procurement process chosen. The source of the State’s contribution will be subject to further consideration and may include the proceeds from the sale of State assets, the National Pensions Reserve Fund and the Strategic Investment Fund." 
The Government will publish its National Digital Strategy (NDS) by the end of 2012. This will:
"...put in place a blueprint for digital adoption in Ireland which will support new and existing business and help unlock the enormous creative potential that exists. Particular attention is expected to be paid to the potential of eLearning and eHealth. The NDS will also focus on delivering a more cohesive Government approach to dealing with digital issues."
There are specific targets for schools too, unlike the UK's broadband strategy:
"The Government has already commenced the rollout of high speed broadband connectivity to all second level schools. Under this initiative all second level schools will have 100Mbps connectivity installed during 2014. This significant capital investment will run between 2012 and 2014 and will facilitate an important change to the way teaching and learning takes place in the classroom. It will also help equip our students with the digital skills necessary to compete for jobs in the digital economy."
The plan also outlines the steps that will be taken to remove barriers and streamline investment. The Government is also keen to make use of existing infrastructure in pursuit of its ambitions:
"A number of commercial State companies and non-commercial State bodies are already leveraging their existing infrastructure to actively provide infrastructure and services to the telecommunications market. These include Bord Gais Éireann, the Electricity Supply Board, Iarnród Éireann, Coillte, the National Roads Authority and the Office for Public Works. The MANs which are owned by the State and operated by e|net are also providing middle-mile infrastructure and services for the sector. All of these assets have played an important role in the marked improvement in broadband services in recent years. It has been Government policy for some time that State entities should avail of all opportunities to facilitate the deployment of infrastructure to the telecommunications market. The laying of ducts alongside the Galway to Mayo gas pipeline; ducting as part of sewage works in Tuam; and ducting along national roads and motorways are just some examples of how this policy is being implemented. Further opportunities may exist and the Government is firmly committed to exploiting any such opportunities with a view to accelerating the rollout of high speed broadband. The Government also recognises that non-commercial State entities may find it more challenging to bring their assets to market and will develop a model to assist these bodies in overcoming such challenges."
Finally, the plan states that spectrum for 4G mobile services will be released this year. 

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