New €450m broadband network could catapult us to top tier in EU
A NEW €450m fibre broadband network could catapult Ireland into Europe's upper tiers of internet connectivity.
The service, which is scheduled for 50 large towns and suburbs and is targeting 500,000 Irish homes and businesses, has been unveiled by the ESB and Vodafone.
They are promising ordinary families broadband speeds of 1,000Mbs, more than 10 times the rate of Eircom's current 'eFibre' broadband services.
The plan is to use ESB power lines to carry fibre-optic cabling directly into homes and businesses. The first of 50 towns to go live will be Cavan town at the start of 2015.
"We intend to connect 100,000 premises next year and a further 100,000 per year after that," said Pat O'Doherty, chief executive of the ESB.
"This is the first time that this has been done in Europe. It will bring badly needed new fibre broadband to areas of the country that have been underserved."
However, the service will not offer broadband to rural areas, he said.
"It's a regional rather than a rural broadband offering," said Mr O'Doherty. "We're targeting towns of over 4,000 homes or businesses, because it needs to make economic sense too. Rural broadband is something different and is being addressed separately by the Government through its subsidised National Broadband Plan."
Mr O'Doherty said that the ESB was likely to pitch for government-subsidised contracts under the National Broadband Plan, where fibre broadband to more than 1,000 small towns and villages is to be rolled out in a separate €500m scheme in coming years.
Rural broadband campaigners have issued a lukewarm welcome to the new ESB-Vodafone network. "Farmers are expected to do more and more of their administrative work online now," said Billy Gray, rural development officer of the Irish Cattle and Sheep Farmers' Association.
"Much of the farmers' work now requires access to high-speed broadband. If the Government really expects farmers to engage with these online services, a full roll-out of broadband to all rural areas is vital."
The new service will offer access to other operators who might want to resell fibre broadband using their own brand. Both Vodafone and the ESB say that it will not directly compete in areas currently served by UPC.
"We're primarily looking at areas that are currently not served by fibre broadband services," said Mr O'Doherty. "It makes sense to target those areas first. We may decide to expand the network into other areas at a later point."
However, the new service will go head-to-head with Eircom's 'eFibre' broadband offering, which is to be rolled out to 1.4 million homes and businesses over the next two years.
A spokesman for Eircom said that it would challenge the new venture by demanding that the ESB grant it permission to run its own broadband infrastructure over the ESB's electricity lines and poles.
"We intend, where appropriate, to seek the same level of access to ESB infrastructure that will be provided to the new joint venture," he said.