Tom Raftery criticizes minister Noel Dempsey for criticizing Damien Mulley’s publication of a broadband map of Ireland. Eircom told the newspapers that the map was grossly misleading.
In all this congratulating and criticizing nobody is addressing the real problem here.
Ireland is becoming an extra-urban country. The population is spread ribbon-style along roads between towns. It doesn’t take a genius to see that if DSL only has a range of 5km, then somewhere along the way the coverage is going to run out. You just can’t cover the whole length of the road, except maybe by having smaller exchanges along the way.
If you install more exchanges (and Ireland does in fact have a lot of exchanges to cope with the population spread) then the exchanges are very small, and less viable to upgrade with broadband. Add to this the fact that a lot of phone users, particularly in rural areas are older and unlikely to order broadband.
As a result, it’s very hard to make broadband viable in rural areas. Even if you do roll out DSL, there will be long distances to the exchange and it will be impossible to get high line speeds.
This is the core of the problem. There’s lots of posturing, but when it comes down to it, there’s a big technical problem here. If we really want nationwide broadband we have to deal with this issue. No amound of arguing or criticizing will fix it.
Personally, I think the answer is fiber. Rather than wasting money trying to upgrade these rural exchanges to provide second-rate broadband, it would be better to run fiber out along these ribbon developments.
There would be a substantial cost to doing this, for sure. But I think it would be worth it for eircom. Fiber equipment and expertise is far more available than it was five or ten years ago. A fiber network would require far less maintenance and would be easier to repair and extend. Fiber never rusts and is not damaged by water (which is something we have far too much of in rural Ireland.) There would also be extra revenue, as a result of being able to provide broadband, TV and telephone services to more homes.
If eircom doesn’t do this, it faces a big threat: ESB, the national electricity company. Up to now, running broadband alongside power hasn’t worked out because of various safety concerns. In particular, running telephone cables in the same duct as electricity cables is a big no-no, for fairly obvious reasons. However fiber doesn’t have this safety issue, since it does not conduct electricity.
The ESB has to run cables to every house in the country in any case. It would cost it very little to install a fiber run at the same time, perhaps wrapping the fiber around the electricity cable. As a result, the ESB would be able to double or even triple its revenue from rural customers, most likely at Eircom’s expense. Eircom might even have to pay ESB for going into competition with it and fulfilling Eircom’s universal service obligation.