Article in Business section of todays Irish Independent:
Kane defends Eircom stance on loop
Rebuttal to criticisms from EU, regulator's office and competing operators
OUTGOING Eircom chief executive Alfie Kane yesterday defended the incumbent's stance on the local loop and DSL access despite recent condemnation of the company by the European Commission, the regulator's office, and competing operators.
And the Government should pick up the tab for the roll-out of the national broad-band network to deal with a threat to our national competitiveness, the chief of the National Competitiveness Council warned yesterday.
Mr Kane, who is also president of the Dublin Chamber of Commerce, was speaking at that body's launch of "Recommendations for Dublin as a World Class eEntity". He said that the local loop is already unbundled and it is up to competitors to apply for access.
On DSL, he said: "Eircom should be encouraged to roll out this service at whatever price. The market will then determine its take-up."
Speaking after the launch of the National Competitiveness Council's annual report chairman Brian Patterson pointed out that the events of September 11 and the bursting of the technology bubble ensured that there was little appetite for investment in a national broadband network.
The Council wants to see a much quicker roll-out and is now recommending it be make available on a low-cost, open-access basis.
The lack of such an infrastructure meant Ireand is lagging behind its OECD counterparts - we are ranked a very poor 27th out of 30 countries for broadband penetration, Mr Patterson said.
This is a direct threat to our competitiveness, he said, and the Government should take action to deal with this.
Mr Patterson wants the Department of Public Enterprise to publish a strategy by the end of next March to accelerate the expansion of the broadband infrastructure.
And he insisted that even if it meant putting up the money, it should press ahead with the development.
"This is as important a piece of infrastructure as any major road," he warned, suggesting that if the Government gets the ball rolling the private sector may weigh in behind it.
However, neither the issue of the local loop, the last mile of Eircom's local copper telephone network, nor DSL access, one of the methods competitors can use to access the local loop, are in any way resolved here and are the subject of constant debate both at home and in Europe.
The Dublin Chamber of Commerce report confirmed that stumbling blocks in the selling of Dublin, and indeed Ireland, as an e-commerce hub include delays on both DSL, the local loop and broadband infrastructure.
"Dublin has fallen far behind most other European cities ... in terms of the availability and choice of key access technologies," according to the report. "There are still no DSL providers, let alone a choice of them, and nor are there viable wireless local loop providers."
At the moment, the Office of the Director of Telecommunications (ODTR) and Eircom are in a legal wrangle over the pricing of access to the local loop.
Eircom claims the interim price set by the ODTR of ?13.53 and a connection charge of ?119.73 are too low,and queries whether the ODTR had the authority to set the prices.
In terms of DSL, there are issues to be resolved over the wholesale prices Eircom wants to charge other operators for the services.
Ailish O'Hora and Pat Boyle