Tensions abound as broadband scheme enters crucial phase

Tensions abound as broadband scheme enters crucial phase.

 

Recently, the government inadvertently published some internal government documents revealing extra details on the cost and tension behind the National Broadband Plan rollout.

I say ‘inadvertently’ because the Government tried to redact the document but didn’t do it properly – anyone with a cursory knowledge of computers could unmask the black redacted strips.

One key issue revealed in the private memo was that the deal with Eir – to move 300,000 rural home and businesses out of the State’s 850,000-premise rollout intervention zone and into Eir’s own expedited rollout plans – will probably end up costing the State money and hit the rollout schedule, too.

“The department’s own subsidy modelling suggests that the smaller intervention area could lead to an increase in the overall cost of the state intervention,” said the document.

But how can covering an area with 550,000 premises cost more than an area of 850,000 premises?

They’re much harder to hook up, return less revenue and might face bridging tolls from Eir along the way.

“While intuitively it could be expected that a reduced intervention area would result in a lower subsidy, there are a number of factors putting upward pressure on the subsidy,” says the private position paper.

“The first arises because the reduction in the overall network build cost for the reduced intervention area is likely to be less than the reduction in revenues earned across the smaller number of premises. While there will be fewer premises to be connected in the reduced intervention area, these premises are in the more sparsely populated and hard-to-reach areas.

Read the full story here independent.ie

If National Broadband Plan will cost 60pc more, do we need a new plan?

If National Broadband Plan will cost 60pc more, do we need a new plan?

 

Ireland’s troubled intervention plan for broadband has hit some very serious speed bumps.

Ireland’s National Broadband Plan (NBP), geared to make Ireland the fibre testbed of Europe, is unravelling before our eyes.

The plan, costed at between €500m and €1bn (no one was ever clear on the figure), is now likely to cost 60pc more than what the politicians and civil servants predicted.

This is down to the cost of accessing Eir’s poles and ducts.

Dancing at the crossroads

The plan began with the best of intentions, and its coordinators, in their zeal, worked hard to make sure there were no gaps, no room for tribunals down the line, or any potential for accusations of favourable treatment for operators in the jealously contended race.

Its scope was vast. It aimed to bring a minimum of 30Mbps broadband to 750,000 postal addresses, 1.8m citizens, 96pc of the nation’s land mass and along 100,000km of road. An initial stimulus package of €275m was approved by Government up to 2020.

The first sign that the NBP, in its initial shape, was falling apart? The news that it was to be delayed, and that the final winners from the shortlist of Eir, Siro and Enet wouldn’t be announced in June 2017 as planned. Instead, it would be potentially delayed to late 2017, with construction starting in 2018, and the final citizens on the wrong side of the digital divide getting connectivity in 2023. Guess what? It is nearly late 2017!

The next sign that the plan was changing came in April when Communications Minister Denis Naughten, TD, signed a deal with Eir to target 300,000 homes in the intervention area – 890 communities – as part of a €200m deal with fibre on a commercial basis. This reduced the scope of the remaining plan to 542,000 premises, for 990,000 citizens (or 21pc of the population). The move created consternation among rival operators because it left them with the harder-to-reach areas and the feeling that Eir was gifted the low-hanging fruit.

Read the full story here. siliconrepublic.com

Government documents reveal cost of rural broadband could increase by a whopping 60%

The cost of rural broadband could rise by up to 60pc according to internal government documents.

 

Internal memos released under the Freedom Of Information Act show a feared National Broadband Plan price hike because of the government’s recent agreement with Eir to move 300,000 rural home and businesses out of the state’s 850,000-premise rollout intervention zone and into Eir’s own expedited rollout plans.

The rise in the scheme’s cost, which is already estimated to be over €500m, could come from Eir seeking fees from any winning bidder of the National Broadband Plan tender.

“The level of subsidy [that] bidders might seek for the reduced intervention area could increase by between 10pc and 15pc if an incremental cost is applied to infrastructure access, and by more than 60pc if the existing regulated price for pole and duct access is applied,” said the internal government memo setting out the government’s position.

“All three bidders have indicated that access to the new infrastructure built as part of the Eir 300,000 rural deployment, will be central to their bids. The cost to bidders of accessing this infrastructure in order to reach the Intervention Area is a critical factor that could significantly impact on the level of subsidy sought by bidders in the procurement process.”

The government wants Eir to charge a reduced price to this infrastructure while Eir insists that it is entitled to charge a market rate.

The increase in cost is likely to be absorbed by the taxpayer, as the government has promised that citizen access to state-subsidised rural broadband will not exceed average prices in urban areas.

Read the full story on the independent.ie

Government abandoning rural Ireland with broadband stagnation says MEP

Naughten indicates work on project will not begin until at least beginning of 2019

 

However, Comreg figures, released this week, show there are only 12,076 households and businesses in the State actually benefiting from a pure fibre connection, known in the trade as a fibre-to-the-premise (FTTP), which equates to about .006 per cent of households.

Minister for Communications Denis Naughten has signalled a further delay to the National Broadband Plan (NBP), which was first promised in 2012, by at least a year.

Sinn Féin MEP Liadh Ní Riada has said the government is abandoning rural Ireland by failing to live up to commitments on rolling out high speed broadband.

The Ireland South MEP was speaking as it was revealed Ireland ranked 21st out of 25 EU countries when it comes to broadband speed.

“In terms of broadband speed we are amongst the slowest in Europe, being outperformed by Slovenia, Slovakia, Estonia and Jersey,” she said.

“This is an issue the government has been aware of for more than five years and yet we still remain the bottom of the heap.

“Access to the internet, and in particular access to a high speed connection, is no longer a luxury or privilege, it is as important and basic as access to a telephone or electricity line.

“In rural Ireland it becomes even more crucial for students, businesses, farmers and those hoping to keep in touch with people forced abroad by a Government which has allowed entire swathes of the country to deteriorate to have quick and reliable access to the internet.

“It reduces rural isolation, gives people some sort of access to services that are being stripped from rural Ireland and provides opportunities for education and entrepreneurship.

“It’s long past time the Government stopped allowing us to lag behind the rest of Europe. If Ireland wants to be taken seriously as a modern nation then our Government must provide basic services to our citizens.”

Read the full story on the West Cork Times

State’s broadband scheme to be delayed

State’s broadband scheme to be delayed by at least a year, Minister signals.

Naughten indicates work on project will not begin until at least beginning of 2019

However, Comreg figures, released this week, show there are only 12,076 households and businesses in the State actually benefiting from a pure fibre connection, known in the trade as a fibre-to-the-premise (FTTP), which equates to about .006 per cent of households.

Minister for Communications Denis Naughten has signalled a further delay to the National Broadband Plan (NBP), which was first promised in 2012, by at least a year.
The plan to equip 542,000 rural homes and businesses with high-speed broadband has been beset with problems and delays due to the complexity of the procurement process and the failure of the department to finalise the number of premises to be covered earlier.

In the Dáil last week, Mr Naughten indicated he did not expect the first homes to be connected to the State-subsidised scheme until after Eir, the State’s largest telco, had finished a separate project to connect 300,000 rural homes on a commercial basis, which will take until the end of 2018.

The 300,000 homes had originally been earmarked for the Government’s scheme but were controversially removed at the last minute following an agreement between the department and Eir earlier this year.

The department last night denied the timeline for delivery of its broadband initiative had shifted again, insisting the procurement process would continue in parallel with the rollout of infrastructure by commercial operators.

However, it failed to contradict Mr Naughten’s statement in the Dáil that the 542,000 rural customers would be connected only after Eir had completed its contract with the department.
This pushes delivery of the Government’s plan out by another year to 2019 at a time when rural communities are already struggling to keep pace economically with their urban counterparts.
The scheme is expected to take between three and five years to complete and involve a State subsidy of up to €600 million.

While most premises targeted under the scheme will be equipped with high-speed broadband within the first two years of the contract, many may now have to wait until 2023 or 2024 to see any progress.

Public confidence
Fianna Fáil communications spokesman Timmy Dooley described the latest delay as a scandal that would further erode the public’s confidence in the Government’s ability to deliver the plan.
“Minister Naughten had the audacity to come into the Dáil to answer questions on the NBP last week and announce that nothing will happen with these households until Eir finishes a project connecting 300,000 other households which they are doing on a commercial basis,” he said.
“For the next 77 weeks, it will be the households that Eir are connecting on a commercial basis that will be prioritised, and not the households that have no hope of ever being connected via a normal commercial connection.

“What’s worse is Minister Naughten’s attempt at jumping on the coat-tails of Eir’s work by claiming it as a phase under the NBP, and referring to the State’s work in connecting the remaining 542,000 households as the next phase.”

Mr Dooley said Mr Naughten’s actions were akin to a minister for transport claiming to provide public transport by letting car dealers sell cars to the public.
“The NBP is beyond a joke now. Every few months, we see the Minister announcing changes to the plan which fundamentally diminishes its impact,” he said.

Read the full story on the Irish Times

fibre reality

Telcos truth about fibre broadband – but not the whole truth

Comreg data shows only 12,076 households benefiting from pure fibre connections

You would be forgiven for thinking half the Irish countryside is wired up with fibre broadband, the gold standard of the industry, given the amount of company announcements we’re subjected to.

However, Comreg figures, released this week, show there are only 12,076 households and businesses in the State actually benefiting from a pure fibre connection, known in the trade as a fibre-to-the-premise (FTTP), which equates to about .006 per cent of households.

The disparity stems from the fact that telcos tend to conflate “premises passed” by the new fibre technology with those actually connected to it, blurring the lines between FFTPs and fibre-enhanced connections.

In most areas the new technology only runs to the street cabinet, with the last hop – as they call it in the industry – to the house or premises completed via the old copper connection, which can slow broadband speeds considerably, depending on how degraded the original copper is.

All of which is not to say households aren’t benefiting from fibre, just not as much as telcos would have us believe.

Comreg’s report does, however, show that broadband speeds, despite the public outcry, have got significantly faster.

It found that 67 per cent of all fixed-line connections enjoyed speeds equal to or greater than 30 megabits per second, up from 58 per cent in the first quarter of 2016. Telcos Eir, Siro and Enet, which are vying for the Government’s National Broadband Plan, have been busy investing in their networks ahead of the bidding process later this year. The Government’s scheme is expected to deploy predominantly fibre technology to insure against the early obsolescence, a feature of previous State-backed plans.

However, a potential stumbling block may be the final 10 per cent of homes covered by the scheme, which are located in the hardest-to-reach areas because of a legacy of one-off housing and dodgy planning.

Five Winning Bidders in ComReg’s 3.6 GHz Band Spectrum Award

ComReg Media Release

Five Winning Bidders in ComReg’s 3.6 GHz Band Spectrum Award

ComReg has today published the results of its 3.6 GHz spectrum award. The 3.6 GHz band has been identified by the Radio Spectrum Policy Group (RSPG) as a primary band suitable for the introduction of 5G in Europe.

The Award, which was conducted by auction, resulted in the successful assignment of all 350 MHz of spectrum. The spectrum was offered in 594 lots spread over nine regions (four rural and five urban), assigned on a contiguous basis.

The Auction resulted in five Winning Bidders:

  • Imagine Communications Ireland Ltd, currently the largest Wireless Internet Service Provider (WISP) obtained spectrum rights of use for 60 MHz in each of the rural regions;
  • Airspan Spectrum Holdings Ltd, a new entrant and the UK arm of a US global provider of 4G broadband wireless systems and solutions. Airspan’s products serve operators and markets such as smart utilities, transportation and public safety in both licensed and licence exempt frequency bands. Airspan obtained 25 MHz in the rural regions and 60 MHz in the cities;
  • Vodafone Ireland Ltd, a mobile network operator with circa 2.3 million mobile subscribers (38.5% market share) and circa 268,00 fixed broadband subscribers (19.7% market share) obtained 85 MHz in rural regions and 105 MHz in the cities;
  • Three Ireland Hutchison Ltd, a mobile network operator with circa 2.08 million mobile subscribers (35% market share) obtained 100 MHz nationally; and
  • Meteor Mobile Communications Ltd, a mobile network operator and a wholly owned subsidiary of Eircom Group which has circa 1.08 million mobile subscribers (18 % market share). Eircom Group has circa 444,000 fixed broadband subscribers (32.6% market share). Meteor obtained 80 MHz in the rural regions and 85 MHz in the cities.

The 3.6 GHz band is currently used for the provision of fixed wireless access services to about twenty five thousand customers, predominantly in rural areas. Imagine Communications Ireland Limited, by far the largest provider of fixed wireless access services in the 3.6 GHz band, holding 80% of the existing licences in the band, has secured sufficient spectrum so as to be in a position to maintain and enhance services.

All spectrum rights of use licences will run for 15 years, expiring on 31 July 2032. Winning bidders will pay in excess of €78m, comprising €60.5m in upfront fees and circa €17.7m in spectrum usage fees to be paid over the 15 year duration of the licences. Full details are set out at Annex 1.

Given the quantum of spectrum in the 3.6 GHz band, the EC preferred Time Division Duplex (TDD) channelling arrangement and developments at European level generally, the 3.6 GHz Band could be suitable for addressing mobile capacity constraints, introducing new 5G services, and being a core band for providing and improving fixed wireless broadband services particularly in rural areas.

The release of the 3.6 GHz band has increased the amount of harmonised spectrum for mobile, nomadic and fixed wireless broadband services by 86% and places ComReg at the vanguard of Europe, having awarded 350 MHz of the band in full accordance with the harmonisation Decision, fully ready for any future 5G deployment.

Commenting on the award, ComReg Chairperson Gerry Fahy noted that “the result of the 3.6 GHz award represents a very good outcome for consumers, service providers and ComReg. All 350 MHz of available spectrum, across the entire country, has been assigned at an important time as demand for wireless communications services continues to grow. Continuity for existing services has been underpinned and the possibility of new services has been significantly enhanced. In particular the characteristics of this band, coupled with its 5G potential, should ensure Ireland is well positioned to benefit from new technology and service enhancements in the years to come. The outcome also produced new market entry with the potential for increased investment and innovation thereby enhancing competition and customer outcomes.”

For further information, please see ComReg’s Information Notice 17/38 published alongside this Media Release.

Eir broadband deal leaves rural customers facing rollout lottery

Did the government achieve a major milestone in rural broadband rollout this week? Or has it caved to pressure from Eir, putting the wider project at risk?

There are considered views on both sides of the argument.

For those who missed it, the Government agreed a ‘contract’ with Eir to remove 300,000 rural homes and businesses from the list of 840,000 targeted for the state-subsidised National Broadband Plan. Instead of getting broadband from the State-subsidised process, these 300,000 homes are now to get it on a normal commercial basis. The agreement between the Government and Eir requires Eir to have this completed by the end of next year. If it isn’t, the government says that it reserves the right to re-enter the districts concerned into the National Broadband Plan footprint and make Eir pay any costs.

Communications Minister Denis Naughten is presenting this as a milestone reached in its wider rural broadband goal. Some critics, though, are sceptical of Eir’s ability to deliver such an ambitious target, citing the company’s mixed record to date.

The big unanswered question, though, is what this means for the remaining 540,000 rural homes and business left in the National Broadband Plan map. What is the timetable for that rollout? When will construction on the network begin? Is there a date by which the Government hopes to award a contract for it?

Unfortunately, the Minister now has no answer for these basic questions. The Eir deal may have skewed the whole process.

Mr Naughten’s problem is that taking 300,000 homes out of the intervention area footprint leaves bidders for the scheme with the more difficult, harder-to-reach rump of 540,000 homes. That means they’re a lot less attractive to bid for, even if there is a subsidy involved. And that means that the Government may face further delays in teeing up the tender contract as the three bidders (Eir, Siro and eNet) reassess how they would go about connecting these premises, the cost and complexity.

Indeed, this is exactly what they are now saying.

“We will now take time to review whether this changed scope impacts the viability of Siro’s participation,” said a spokesman for Siro, the joint venture between the ESB and Vodafone which is one of two rival short-listed bidders.

Mr Naughten believes that Siro and eNet will stay in the bidding race and he is probably right. But to keep them involved, the Government may now have to increase the effective subsidy on offer for each rural home. This may even result in a larger overall taxpayer bill than serving a greater number of homes, as bidders may have been willing to risk more themselves for access to scale.

It looks increasingly unlikely that a winning bidder will now be announced this year. That would mean construction is delayed until next year and connections put off until late 2018.

So it looks like we’re in for another bout of delays and another wave of disillusionment.

It is, of course, possible that the Government didn’t have much of a choice but to do its deal with Eir. If the telecoms company really was about to start building its broadband rollout into a third of the Government’s stated intervention area, the Government would risk breaking EU state aid rules. That could have halted the entire initiative which, ironically, would not have hurt Eir anywhere near as much as other telecoms firms or the Government’s credibility.

To be fair, this deal with Eir may indeed mean that there are 300,000 rural homes which will now get broadband on an accelerated time frame. Indeed, a cynic might pick Eir over the Government’s rollout timetable at this point.

One of the criticisms of the contract the Government has signed with Eir is that it has been taken on by an entity with a poor track record of delivery. While there is some justification for that view, the company can be fairly said to have responded to market and industry pressure in rolling out a much larger broadband network now than its fiercest critics would have allowed for, and most evidence points to it being somewhat serious about rolling out fibre, too. It is undoubtedly true that much of its motivation for doing so has been drawn by a combination of initiatives from UPC (now Virgin Media), Siro (Vodafone and the ESB) and Government intervention plans. But it does now have a genuine broadband footprint, even if a large portion still falls short of fibre-era standards. In this context, it may be unduly harsh to charge that the Government has been sold a bag of magic beans.

One can’t blame Minister Naughten for spinning the Eir announcement of 300,000 homes as a sort of adjunct to the National Broadband Plan. In a fog of delays and ongoing contract “complications”, it’s a sizeable chunk of rural Ireland that otherwise might have been mired for years waiting for a tender to be issued.

But it’s the remainder of the homes and businesses to be connected – 540,000 of them – that now face an even more uncertain future.

 Catch the full article here on the Irish Independent

Don’t tell farmers to apply online when they have no broadband coverage

Don’t tell farmers to apply online when they have no broadband coverage – Martin Kenny TD

Sinn Féin spokesperson for Agriculture, Food and the Marine, Martin Kenny TD, speaking after the Government announced that Eir would expand broadband service to the easy to reach properties, said that the Department of Agriculture would want to take note, before asking farmers from his constituency to make Basic Payment Scheme applications online.

Deputy Kenny said, “Any expansion of broadband services in Ireland has to be welcome, but allowing cherry-picking by providers, so that they can ignore areas which are not commercially profitable, means that large sections of the West are left without proper broadband coverage.

“The announcement of the roll-out of broadband has been nearly a monthly occurrence for the past few years, but it is still not happening for many rural areas. This is another example of Government lack of understanding of the reality of people’s lives. One Department is allowing commercial interests to dictate who gets broadband while another Department is demanding online applications.

“More and more functions are moving online. I hope the Department of Agriculture is taking note of the situation in this part of the world before asking farmers to apply online for their Basic Payment Scheme.

“Rural areas of Sligo, Leitrim, Cavan, and Donegal have the lowest level of broadband in the country and are quickly being left behind. The fear is that this is a long term issue as the Government has shown no political will, despite lots of lip service, to redress the imbalance between the urban and rural.”

 Catch the full article here on the Leitrim Observer

Enforced digital detox turns rural dream into nightmare

Lack of landline or internet connections and ‘apathetic’ Eir ruin move to new Offaly home

After years of renting, saving and dreaming, my partner and I finally moved into our dream home with our two children on St Patrick’s Day.

We were finally free of the rental trap, our kids could play out in the garden without fear of passing cars and there would be space to grow vegetables and tend to a garden.

The house is a one-off new build. It is located around six kilometres from the centre of Tullamore and about 3km from the house we previously rented on the outskirts of the Co Offaly town. Although close to the town, it is located down a boreen off the main road and is free from both light and noise pollution.

All of this seemed idyllic to me and in my naivety I did not anticipate any major difficulties. This was before I had the misfortune of dealing with Eir. They were contacted prior to the move for a landline and internet connection but on inspection their engineer said a pole was needed so we cancelled the order and made a fresh request. Eir had supplied eFibre to the old house and credit where credit is due, the service was perfect, too good perhaps.

Even though the new house is near our old address we may as well be in a different galaxy. On two occasions Eir couldn’t find the house and they even cited data protection as the reason they couldn’t ask locally for directions (so much for your Eircode Alex White), presumably because God forbid someone might discover we wanted a phoneline.

When their engineer eventually arrived, it was the same man from before with the same message – we need a pole and there must be a pole request. This was infuriating as we had informed Eir of this on countless occasions. When informed that my livelihood was on the line, the engineer was sympathetic and said he would contact his manager, outline the urgency of the case and put in a pole request. Eir say we might now have a line at the end of April.

Modern-day retreat

Eir cannot be held responsible for the location’s mobile phone signal. It is almost non-existent on both major networks. I imagine years from now there will be people seeking out the exact conditions that prevail at my new home. It is a digital-free oasis impervious it would appear, even to radio waves. The enforced digital detox might actually one day become a viable business model, a modern-day retreat, impenetrable to potentially harmful radiation from the modern world outside – if only there was a way of letting people know about it.

After the move the full implications of digital-free living became all too apparent as my income dried up. Even my radio conspired against me in a fiendish way. It permits radio stations to be tuned in but the moment you walk away from the device the signal dies.

As a freelance reporter it is difficult to think of a more challenging environment to operate from. In the past I have had days of frantically driving up and down country roads in search of a mobile signal all the while knowing that there was an irate editor waiting impatiently in some far away newsroom. That is challenging but at least mobility offered the prospect of a solution.

The sheer frustration of dealing with Eir is something entirely different. The irony of trying to force customers to communicate through online chats appears lost on the company. The apathetic call-takers on Eir’s community forum seem incapable of grasping the reality of someone having no mobile phone coverage.

Recently I acquired an internet dongle from Vodafone. The service works intermittently. I am informed that should I get landline broadband I could get a device that would boost the mobile phone signal in the house. At the moment one windowsill offers two bars of 3G phone reception. My phone is in constant need of charging as it is exhausting itself trying to find a signal. It has also developed a worrying habit of falling from the windowsill when the odd call does come through.

I am acutely aware that my problems fall squarely into the first-world category. I know citizens are being massacred in Syria, children are dying of starvation in Yemen and there is a very real homelessness crisis here in Ireland. I know too that many people feel that if you choose to live in the countryside then you should accept the consequences.

Incapable

While I take this on board, I wonder what hope have the people of rural Ireland in starting up any business in this digital age. As for Eir acquiring 300,000 new rural broadband contracts at the behest of the Minister for Communications, frankly I despair. They seem incapable of dealing with the customers they have.

Having been told by Eir that I could now expect to wait a further three weeks for a landline or internet connection, I drove to my old address and in a state of complete exasperation and frustration emailed both the Denis Naughten and the chief executive of Eir. A lot of what I said is outlined above, but there was one more point that I believe is probably most relevant. What will I do if my partner or either of my young children require an ambulance or urgent medical attention? As expected neither the Minister nor the chief executive responded.

In jest, I informed the news editor that he could expect this piece in the post. It was only after the phone call ended I remembered what is happening to our rural post office network.

 Catch the full article here on the Irish Times