Models for Infrastructure Sharing: Ireland

Editor’s Note: This Practice Note is an excerpt from a discussion paper entitled Extending Open Access to National Fibre Backbones in Developing Countries prepared by Dr Tracy Cohen and Russell Southwood for the 8th ITU Global Symposium for Regulators[i].

3.5.2       SERPANT: Ireland 

The SERPANT Broadband Project (the snakelike name is an acronym for “South-East Regional Public Access Network of Telecommunications”) came out of a national broadband strategy devised by the Irish Department of Communications, Marine and Natural Resources in 2004.[ii]  The then-minister, Dermot Ahern, said he had “secured government funding until 2007 which will deliver broadband to over 350,000 people who simply cannot get it at present.”[iii] The initiative targeted 88 towns with populations between 1,500-17,000 -- but focused mostly at the lower end of that population range.  At the time, Ahern said the purpose of the initiative was to defend and develop Ireland’s global competitiveness.  Ireland has to maintain its premier position as a supplier of digital goods and services to a global market,” he said.  “High-speed, low cost broadband helps ensure this.”

Under the same nationwide broadband initiative, the Department offered to pay rural communities 40 per cent of costs to set up group broadband plans.  Money would also go to Esat (BT Ireland) to provide high-speed backhaul links to regional providers that embarked on initiatives like SERPANT.  Nationally, the Department allocated 140 million Euros over a three-year period, a significant part of which came from the European Union as part of Ireland’s National Development Plan 2000-2006. In broad terms, the European Union funds are designed to benefit those areas that have not developed as well economically as other parts of the country.

Primary responsibility for SERPANT was given to a regional public authority, the South-East Regional Authority, which covers various local areas….SERPANT was set up to fill a gap left by the failure of the private sector to roll out broadband to these areas.  The proposed 26 metropolitan broadband rings were envisioned as “major drivers of inward investment and cheaper communications links”.

After a competitive bidding process, a local company called E-Net was awarded a 15-year concession agreement to run the metropolitan area networks (MANs) constructed throughout the area.  E-Net’s role is to operate, manage and promote the government-owned MANs that were built, at a total cost of 18 million Euros.  There is now a provision to extend the network beyond the local authority areas to a larger area of customers.

The SERPANT optic fibre network and system of ducts passes as many businesses, government buildings, educational establishments and industry locations as possible.  E-Net installs service connections between the main network and the customer premises.  Spur routes have been provided for connectivity to certain key customers, like major hospitals, where a ring configuration could not be economically justified at the time. As elsewhere, the idea is to reduce the infrastructure investment costs that each service provider would incur if it built its own network.

E-Net thus operates as a wholesaler of access to the metropolitan area networks, offering a full suite of products that include ducting, sub-ducting, dark fibre, high-level managed capacity, collocation facilities and relevant auxiliary services.  E-Net claims to offer pricing that is comparable with the cheapest available internationally.

Minister Ahern noted that the contract awarded to E-Net balanced public and private purposes, with the local authorities responsible for the capital risk and E-Net burdened with the operational risks.  He noted that “the contract strikes a balance between the more commercial objectives of the management company and the longer-term economic development objectives of the government and the local authorities.”[iv]



[i] For more information about the GSR, see www.itu.int/ITU-D/treg/Events/Seminars/GSR/index.html;
Direct link to GSR Discussion Papers 2008 at: www.itu.int/ITU-D/treg/Events/Seminars/GSR/GSR08/papers.html

[ii] The South East Information Society Strategy was launched in 2000 by the South East Regional Authority.

[iii] Department of Communications, Marine and Natural Resources (Ireland) “Broadway – Regional Broadband Programme – Connecting a Global Community”,  January 2004 at www.sera.ie/docs/Broadway%20Spring%20Issue%20%20.pdf

[iv] Ibid.

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