Oireachtas Joint and Select Committees
Tuesday, 16 July 2019
Joint Oireachtas Committee on Communications, Climate Action and Environment
National Broadband Plan: Discussion (Resumed)
Mr. Marcus Matthews:
The process would have to be fundamentally changed and brought in line with what other countries have done. What we are proposing to do is abnormal. The only jurisdiction of which I am aware that has truly achieved 100% fibre is the island of Jersey. Everywhere else, there is a hybrid model where broadband radio covers the rural part. If we were to consider this again, we would need to consider what has been done in the United Kingdom, for example. We would need to consider a use-it-or-lose-it model of spectrum. We would need to consider what Scotland is doing. It tried to have 100% fibre under the digital Scotland superfast broadband scheme. It did very well but it does not have the same type of development pattern. It has a more clustered development pattern. It had very successful fibre roll-out but it concluded that it makes sense to introduce a hybrid approach. It is going at it in terms of the design of the consumer subvention programme. This involved connection grants, which are technology agnostic. Once the Internet service provider can meet the performance criteria, which is what we are talking about, it can use whatever technology it likes. It can run fibre to the home or it can use broadband radio. In terms of reopening the process, we would need to follow what other countries have done or elected to do and are doing successfully. We would need to consider a licence-protected model, such as that in France. A licence-protected model means the licence is not auctioned. It involves protecting a section of the band. The only people who may access the band are those who make an application to deliver high-speed rural broadband to premises. If they do not meet the performance targets, the application is rejected. It removes the cost burden and allows existing regional Internet service providers to start solving the problem immediately. By striking the decision in terms of the licence-protected model, it immediately opened up 2 million homes to coverage by existing regional providers.
Let me return to the question of reopening the process and what we talked about in our written submission. One would need a licence-protected model that allocates a suitable spectrum. One would need some low band and some midband. One would need several of the other policy instruments that have been outlined in our written submission. There should be a consumer subvention model to cover those premises that are not commercially viable. There would ideally be a State-backed affordable loan scheme, similar to what was done with the agricultural cash flow scheme.