This week the Innovation Taskforce launched yet another Government-backed report pleading for greater investment in Ireland’s broadband infrastructure.

The Innovation Taskforce outlines the importance of innovation as follows:

Innovation entails investment aimed at producing new knowledge and using it in various applications. Increasing productivity is the key driver of economic performance and sustainability. Innovation, in both the production and use of ideas, technology and processes, is important in this context because it drives productivity. Ireland’s future economic success depends on increasing levels of innovation across all aspects of Irish enterprise.

The availability of high quality broadband is strategically important to enabling and exploiting innovation, according to the members of the Taskforce. Communications-intensive sectors such as software development, medical devices and financial services and emerging sectors such as renewable energy, energy efficiency, cloud computing and personalised healthcare all depend on access to next generation broadband.

In June 2009 the Government committed to delivering universal broadband by the end of 2010. The Innovation Taskforce goes further and insists that significant improvement in the quality of broadband is essential, since the applications of the future, such as cloud computing, will require:

  1. much higher speeds,
  2. symmetric services (similar upload and download speeds),
  3. low latency (speed of response of the system to the user) and
  4. uncontended access (user does not have to share bandwidth
    with other users due to network constraints)

The taskforce criticises the level of investment from the telecoms operators in the Irish market in upgrading the local access networks; from the network backbones to customers’ premises. The taskforce picks up on the Forfás report from earlier this year suggesting that regulation needs to permit operators to receive higher returns from their investment in infrastructure.

The key recommendation of the taskforce report is that the nationwide roll-out of 1Gbps broadband be prioritised. To put that in context, the typical household broadband speeds is currently 1Mbps – that’s 1,000 times slower than the level of infrastructure suggested by the taskforce. While individual consumers may today only seek to use a fraction of this, the provision of such infrastructure for enterprise cannot be underestimated.

We can all understand that a sub-standard electricity or transport infrastructure would have completely undermined Ireland’s ability to compete in manufacturing in years past. And so today a sub-standard communications infrastructure does absolutely undermine our ability to compete in knowledge-intensive industries.

A State investment in broadband infrastructure will not be cheap. But the taskforce rightly points out that an intelligent and far-sighted intervention by the State could provide a substantial, competitive and, ideally, unique advantage to companies operating in Ireland. They believe that such interventions could “change and disrupt an entire global industry because those companies using the new infrastructure gain considerable advantage over their international competitors”.

This in turn can attract yet further foreign direct investment, as companies come to Ireland with the State benefiting from the additional employment resulting from companies using the infrastructure, and possibly also from revenues received by use of the infrastructure itself.

In the space of a little over twelve months there have been six separate reports launched by the Government highlighting the imperative for increased investment in essential next generation broadband, including:

  1. Building Ireland’s Smart Economy (Dec 2008)
  2. Knowledge Society Strategy (July 2009)
  3. Next Generation Broadband (July 2009)
  4. Global Irish Economic Forum – Farmleigh (October 2009)
  5. Ireland’s Broadband Performance and Policy Actions (January 2010)
  6. Innovation Taskforce Report (March 2010)

Enough reports already. We know what we need to do.