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EDITIONS
Monday, 4 November, 2002, 09:27 GMT
Net protests mount in Ireland
An alarm clock
Time to call time on clock-watching net services?
BBC News Online's Jane Wakefield

Consumers are fed up with paying per minute for net services in Ireland and urgent action needs to be taken if the so-called Celtic Tiger is to stay competitive, say critics.

Both IrelandOffline, a campaign group lobbying for unmetered net access, and telecom operators desperate to introduce new services to their customers, want to see radical changes soon.

The government is backing the campaign with Dermot Ahern, Minister for Communications in Ireland, calling for flat-rate internet access to be introduced in the Irish Republic as a matter of priority.

He wants to see an overhaul of the Irish telecoms watchdog, to give it radical new powers to push through changes which could see Ireland's incumbent phone company, Eircom, forced to introduce unmetered access early next year.

Corporate frustration


US multinationals, which form the backbone of the Irish economy, are thinking long and hard about locating in Ireland because the infrastructure just isn't there

Una McGirr, ESAT BT
It will not be a moment too soon, say campaigners.

Currently consumers and small businesses that use the internet must pay per minute for online time rather than having unlimited access for a flat-rate monthly cost as in the UK.

Some of the larger firms that have made their base in Ireland have overcome the lack of reliable and fast connections by having their own networks installed.

But increasingly high-profile firms such as Microsoft are speaking out about the lack of high-speed networks.

"US multinationals, which form the backbone of the Irish economy, are thinking long and hard about locating in Ireland because the infrastructure just isn't there," said Una McGirr, spokeswoman for ESAT BT, one of the main telecom operators in the republic.

Broadband barely registers on the net radar in Ireland with less than 2,000 installations to date.

In a recent OECD study Ireland came second bottom of a worldwide league table of broadband connections.


The Irish perception of going online is governed by the fact they pay per minute

David Long, IrelandOffline
Unmetered priority

"For the so-called Celtic Tiger and a nation aspiring to be the e-hub of Europe this is a little contradictory," said Ms McGirr.

The biggest priority for IrelandOffline is to get narrowband unmetered access - introduced in the UK two years ago - to Irish consumers.

"The Irish perception of going online is governed by the fact they pay per minute. Consumers are used to short sessions," explained David Long, Chairman of IrelandOffline.

A technology graduate himself, Mr Long is considering moving out of the Republic due to the poor level of connectivity.

"After my state sponsored education in a field that the has been prioritised by the Irish Government to ensure Ireland operates a knowledge economy, I see far greater opportunity to put my skills to work in more connected countries," he said.

His comments fly counter to those expressed by Michael Ahern, Minister of State for Trade and Employment who told BBC News Online that net services were making a radical difference to Irish communities and preventing emigration.

This view is "worryingly inaccurate" said Mr Long.

The situation currently being experienced by providers and consumers in Ireland has striking similarities to the campaign in the UK three years ago which led to BT rolling out unmetered access in the UK in the summer of 2000.

Eircom declined to comment as to why it has, to date, failed to offer unmetered services to operators and consumers.

Time to listen


There is huge pent-up demand and our ears are sore from listening to our own customers.

Una McGirr, ESAT BT
"Eircom has cited congestion of the network and not enough demand as the arguments against unmetered," said Mr Long.

BT-owned ESAT is just one of the telecom operators challenging Eircom to offer a wholesale unmetered product.

"There is huge pent-up demand and our ears are sore from listening to our own customers. For Eircom to say there is no demand is condescending and na´ve," said Ms McGirr.

"Eircom has buckets of capacity so that is not a problem either," she added.

The need for flat-rate unmetered net access is the most important debate in the net industry in Ireland at the current time and Eircom cannot afford not to listen, said Ms McGirr.

"There is such strong demand and unprecedented pressure that Eircom won't be able to turn their backs on it," she said.

Operators are in the early stages of negotiations with Eircom.

See also:

26 Oct 02 | Technology
14 May 02 | Business
17 Aug 01 | Business
31 Jul 01 | Business
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