Minister for Communications, Energy and Natural Resources, Eamon Ryan, launched a ten-point plan on 3rd July to deliver universal broadband access in Ireland between late 2009 and early 2010.
In his announcement, Minister Ryan pledged the Irish Government's commitment towards developing a knowledge and digital economy as a response to other international economic difficulties such as the credit crunch.
Mr Ryan said a national broadband infrastructure was essential for economic and social development.
“The recent ESRI mid-term review forecast that 70pc of exports in 2025 will come from digitally traded services”, told Minister Ryan. “If you look at jobs in financial services and other ICT fields, that’s where our economy is growing fastest.”
The Irish Government will invest €435m to provide universal broadband access, but Minister Ryan told that the next generation broadband infrastructure should be financed by the private sector.
While welcoming Minister Ryan's announcement, Irish business reminded that Ireland has still to catch up with other countries that are already far ahead in terms of broadband coverage and download speeds.
The Government's ten-point plan also pledged to maintain a regulatory framework for fair and transparent competition in the market, to ensure all consumers benefited.
Opposition parties and consumer groups expressed scepticism over the Government's announcement to deliver universal broadband access in Ireland by 2010.
Irish Rural Link, an organisation which campaigns to have broadband services provided to all rural areas in Ireland, said that many questions are yet to be answered.
Seamus Boland, CEO of Irish Rural Link, told that "The Department of Communications estimates that in approximately 10% of the country broadband is not potentially available. A number of experts have estimated the actual figure to be twice or three times the department's figure.”
The Dublin Chamber also expressed scepticism over the Government's plan saying it sets no clear target for a high-speed network, even though Minister Ryan announced that connection speeds would equal or exceed those in other EU countries by 2012.
Damien Mulley, chairman of broadband lobby group Ireland Offline, labelled the Government's announcement of “not realistic”, saying that “even if the National Broadband Scheme went live in the morning it would not get completed for two years due to issues with technologies and planning permissions.”
Ireland still lagging in EU broadband access rates
Ireland has the highest line rental bills in the European Union and only 17.4% of Irish homes were connected to broadband in January 2008, a long way off countries like Denmark, Sweden and Finland, where almost a third of the population has access to high-speed broadband.
Furthermore, broadband is still not available in many rural areas of Ireland.
The latest report from RegCom, Ireland's Communications Regulator, published in June 2008 showed that 22.9% of the population have access to a broadband connection. Internet speeds are still a problem in Ireland with almost half of all residential broadband connections having a speed of 1-2 Mbps.
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