Ireland to build competition-neutral fiber networks in 123 cities

March 25, 2002--The Irish government will invest 300 million Euros to build 50,000 kilometers of high-speed, fiber-optic Internet access rings around 123 of its towns and cities. The country hopes that the rings, funded 90 percent by the Irish government and 10 percent by local authorities, will help vault the country out of last place in the domestic broadband race of Western Europe.

Mar 25th, 2002

The Irish government will invest 300 million Euros to build 50,000 kilometers of high-speed, fiber-optic Internet access rings around 123 of its towns and cities. The country hopes that the rings, funded 90 percent by the Irish government and 10 percent by local authorities, will help vault the country out of last place in the domestic broadband race of Western Europe.

The competition-neutral rings will not be operated or owned by any of the main telecommunications companies operating in Ireland, but by a public/private partnership company that would offer all comers access to the network. A national public access network is also in the works and would ultimately string together all the fiber rings.

With the Irish government absorbing the build-out costs, the network's operator company will not have to recoup capital costs for the network. Instead, it would offer low-priced access to companies--including any of Ireland's telcos--that want to offer services to businesses or consumers, explains Brendan Tuohy, general secretary for Ireland's Department of Public Enterprise.

"We believe that this is the future, and we're prepared to move in this direction and catalyze this," he contends, adding that the state would be looking at other options for getting people online, such as satellite and wireless broadband, in addition to fiber.

The three-phase broadband program will bring fiber Internet networks to 19 towns-- ranging from large cities such as Cork and Galway to the remote, Gaelic-speaking village of Gaoth Dobhair in County Donegal--by the end of next year. A second phase will bring 48 more towns and 1 million residents online, with the final 56 towns connected by 2005.

Minister for Public Enterprise Mary O'Rourke said she is aiming to have a 5-Mbit connection as a standard for Irish homes by 2005. "Regional broadband has become a rallying call," she contends, noting that critics have pointed to "a chasm, a deficit" in this area.

In an unusual move, the Irish government has appointed an advisory committee comprised of senior technology industry experts to supervise the broadband initiative, including the country managers for Hewlett-Packard and Microsoft. No members were drawn from the telecommunications carriers.


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