The Internet Service Providers Association of Ireland (ISPAI) represents companies providing Internet access, hosting and IP communication services within Ireland and to foreign markets. Our membership includes Internet Service Providers (ISPs) offering fixed line (fibre and copper), mobile, cable and fixed wireless telecommunications services. ISPAI currently represents 53 ISPs, large and small, located throughout Ireland.
Due to developments in Government proposals under the National Broadband Plan (NBP), in late November, ISPAI formally established a dedicated fixed Wireless ISP (WISP) subgroup. The focus of the subgroup is to ensure that the NBP must not hinder equitable development and most importantly, continuity of quality broadband Internet access services, across vast tracts of Ireland mostly outside the main cities and towns.
Recently the Minister for Communications, Alex White, T.D., reiterated the Government’s commitment to the NBP, to bring a minimum 30 Megabit per second (Mbit/s) download connection speeds to every home and business in Ireland by 2020 using technology that meets the EU State aid rules as being “Next Generation Access” (NGA) capable. The NBP calls for State intervention in areas where population densities or remoteness make it unlikely that normal commercial investment and service evolution will bring NGA. These zones are overwhelmingly small towns, villages and dispersed settlements across rural Ireland. At present, WISP’s are currently providing broadband services in most of these areas but their current technology base, like many other broadband technologies in use today, does not meet the EU’s NGA criteria.
ISPAI welcomes the aspirations of the National Broadband Plan and believes it is essential for the economic development of rural areas to have access to high speed broadband. This will nurture an environment which will sustain current rural businesses into the future and also attract new employment opportunities which can operate locally and compete globally.
While the NBP clearly recognises the need and benefit of Fixed Wireless as a component of the infrastructure to deliver NGA broadband in Regional and Rural areas, the recent Comreg Consultation on the future use of the 3.6 GHz frequencies currently used by fixed wireless operators has created investment uncertainty. ISPAI WISP members firmly believe that the implementation of the NBP will only be achievable in the stated timeframe by working with the WISP’s who currently provide a cost effective “last mile” access. Regrettably, in the absence of clarity on available spectrum and the promise of state-subsidised NGA roll out to all designated areas in five years (and more), there will be undesired short and medium term effects stifling investment that would allow WISPs to upgrade services. The Government needs to recognise the contribution made by WISP’s to date, allocate appropriate spectrum to WISP’s at reasonable cost and create an environment whereby WISP’s will invest in new radio technologies that already deliver at NGA speeds. Getting the NBP wrong will place rural communities at a disadvantage and for an indeterminate intervening period exacerbate the existing digital divide for these areas.
As commercial providers, our members wish to work with the Minister, DCENR and ComReg to achieve the aspirations of the NBP over realistic time-frames and at least cost to the taxpayer. To this end we will submit our views to the detailed consultations underway. We ask that the Minister and his officials to keep an open mind to having a mix of technologies brought to bear and to ensure that barriers to investment in economic wireless deployment are removed.
This approach would provide certainty for broadband services used by the 7,533 businesses which employ over 48,200 people, and the 66,922 households, in predominantly rural areas, currently served by ISPAI’s WISP members.
The Internet Service Providers Association of Ireland (ISPAI) currently has 53 members, of which 34 are WISPs. (www.ispai.ie)
Data on coverage and customers are taken from an ISPAI survey of its members relating to WISP services conducted in DPRec 2014
Respondents have 66,922 residential customers which accounts for approx. 173,000 home users (using just 2.4 persons per residential household)
32 respondents service 7,533 business customers predominantly outside of the main cities – these businesses employ at least 48,290 people – extrapolating for all 34 WISP members that is approximate 56,000 jobs supported by WISPs’ business customers.
The 34 member WISPS also employ 716 people themselves, being full-time or part-time/contracted staff to maintain the networks, provide customer services and run the financial and administrative aspects of the business.