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European Commission says plain old telephone service is plain out of date

Ireland has been told to get to work ripping up copper wire. We should take a moment to remember why the broadband network has lagged, says Jason Walsh
Image: Shutterstock via Dennis

29 September 2023

Internet connectivity has long been a contentious issue in Ireland, perhaps surprisingly for a country that prides itself on being Europe’s answer to Silicon Valley (or, less charitably, an overseas outpost of it). Slow speeds, high costs and patchy rural coverage long bedeviled the country, resulting in the deployment of all sorts of fringe technologies barely seen elsewhere in Europe, notably unlicensed sections of the radio spectrum, while others were enjoying ADSL and even starting to get fibre-to-the-home.

The crux of the problem was the haphazard privatisation of Telecom Éireann, the over-optimistic valuation of which resulted in a crash in capital investment in the networks. But that was in 1999, so even if the process was fumbled, it’s not much of an excuse in 2023.

To be fair, things have improved. Fibre has been rolled-out, and the arrival of 4G wireless in particular has made broadband a reality in at least some former blackspots.




Brussells wants to see more, though, and it says the way to get there is to get rid of the older warhorse that is the copper network. And it recently said so in a letter: taking aim at communications regulator Comreg, the Commission Directorate General for Communications Networks, Content & Technology said there should be no further delay in the copper switch-off.

“The Commission urges ComReg to refrain from any more delays in the adoption of the framework that could further postpone the copper switch-off process in Ireland,” it said in the letter signed by Roberto Violo, Commission director general.

Unsurprisingly, among telcos Eir in particular has welcomed this, as it is the direct descendent of Telecom Éireann and, therefore, stuck with what the Commission called “non-standard connection costs”.

Eir chief executive Oliver Loomes chimed in to welcome the Commission’s intervention, saying the company has made significant investments in both fibre and 5G. Moreover, failure to scrap the metal would, he said, keep Ireland in the Internet slow lane.

“An unfair or ineffective regulatory environment does not just impact on Eir, it will undermine the government’s digital connectivity strategy which aims to bring high speed fibre broadband to every door by 2028,” he said.

RTÉ reports Comreg as saying the Commission’s letter was business as usual, just part of the standard notification procedure, but either way it seems that we can expect some extra copper on the scrap metal market in the years to come.

Truthfully, it probably is time for the copper network to go. The next time a piece of vital infrastructure is hoisted onto the auction block, though, perhaps we should have a think about whether or not selling it off will result in a damaging capital strike.

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