ComReg to keep ISPs honest

Broadband fibre
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14 February 2014 | 0

Critics of the government’s €350 million National Broadband Plan were vindicated last October when the target of 30Mb/s for all by 2015 was dropped in favour of focusing on the rollout of a national fibre network but all is not lost. The plan, for now, has moved on from delivering speed to improving the national infrastructure. Right now the Department of Communications is start mapping the country’s blackspots, the results of this process will define the parameters of a public/private partnership.

The Plan’s goals are delayed but they’re unchanged: 70-100Mb/s connectivity for 50% of the population; 40Mb/s for 20% of the population; and 30Mb/s to all by completion at a cost of €175 million to the exchequer and a further €175 million from industry partners. Given the glacial pace of fibre roll-out in this country 2015 was never going to be a runner, but the EU deadline as set in its Digital Strategy of 2020 looks attainable.

In the meantime Ireland’s lot in the broadband market is improving but still below expectations. Only 65% of Irish households have broadband – 7% off the EU average; only 21.9% of broadband subscriptions are equal to or greater than 10Mb/s; and 3G mobile broadband is more popular than cable and DSL combined (Data: Comreg, CSO).

Another telling metric comes from Netflix, which publishes a monthly chart of ISPs and the effective speeds they’re delivering across the film and TV on-demand streaming service. Its first chart in November 2012 delivered a predictable result of fibre providers at the top followed by fixed-line, wireless and mobile. Fast forward to January 2014 and the chart delivers a more varied picture with Magnet’s fatpipe service at the top followed by Vodafone and eircom, with UPC in fifth position. This is before 4G gets a full national rollout and turns anything under 50Mb/s into a standing joke.

Before mobile and national fibre come to the rescue, are we to put up with the same ‘have/have not’ market and telcos quoting ‘up to’ speeds? The short answer is yes, but ComReg feels your pain.

According to reports, the communications regulator is to start naming and shaming ISPs that don’t live up to their promises. Consider it a more punitive version of Netflix’ chart. What exactly this measure is meant to achieve is unclear. Many households don’t have the option to shop around or may be on a favourable legacy deal that just about suits their needs for less than a modern alternative. So what if my fibre provider is delivering 50Mb/s of the 70Mb/s I’m paying for if all I do is watch Netflix and check my e-mail? Who cares if my 4G isn’t ‘up to’ 10 times faster than 3G if the data pricing is punitive? Does everyone check their speeds religiously if they can do everything they want on a fraction of what their package says it can deliver? And what can the consumer expect when the regulator wags its finger at underperforming ISPs? A pre-prepared statement talking about factors beyond their control, offer of reduced rates in specific areas, assurances that ‘upgrade work is ongoing’.

The broadband market is a mess of rapidly changing technology, vague promises and hype. Publicly chastising companies for being messy, vague and full of it will let people know their complaints have been heard, but if you’re looking to solve any problems… 2020 isn’t so far away, when you think about it.

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