The Government's delivery of high-speed broadband internet over the last two years has been criticised as a failure by an Oireachtas committee headed by a Fianna Fáil TD. The hard-hitting report from the Oireachtas Committee on Communications, Marine and Natural Resources is due to be published in a fortnight.
In March 2004, the committee, chaired by Fianna Fáil Cork North Central TD Noel O'Flynn proposed a list of measures to accelerate broadband delivery, including the appointment of a minister of state to lead the effort.
Two years on, progress has been "almost non-existent", a draft copy of the report seen by The Irish Times has charged. Ireland, it said, was at the top of a league of European countries in information and communications technology but had now fallen to where it is one of the lowest.
The document will lead to another clash between Mr O'Flynn and Minister for Communications, Marine and Natural Resources Noel Dempsey, following their recent clash over the Sea Fisheries Bill, which was strongly opposed by trawler fishermen. The committee is now set to call Mr Dempsey before it to explain the Government's performance, along with representatives from the independent telecommunications regulator, ComReg and Eircom.
Affordable broadband is "a key economic imperative" for Ireland's efforts to compete in a knowledge-led economy and demands "the concentrated attention" of the Government, TDs and Senators feel. Eircom's opposition to local line unbundling - where the last stretch of a telephone line into homes and offices are opened to competitors - will be strongly criticised during the upcoming hearings.
According to statistics prepared in October 2005 by experts recruited by the committee, up to 95 per cent of the population should be able to access an affordable service by the end of this year. "At present only one in 10 households has broadband," said the report. "It appears that as many as six in 10 consumers could subscribe to broadband today but choose not to do so."
Broadband penetration in the EU is rising rapidly and now stands in excess of 40 million connections. However, Ireland has the worst performance of any of the 15 older EU countries, while three of the new member states are also managing to do better.
By last September there were more than 208,000 broadband subscribers in Ireland. This number is believed to have risen to 250,000 by Christmas, according to figures from the Department of Communications, Marine and Natural Resources.