Regional Internet Service Providers Association

We are continuing our engagement with broadband providers. I remind members and those in the Public Gallery to turn off their mobile phones. I welcome Mr. Marcus Matthews, managing director of the Regional Internet Service Providers Association, and thank him for appearing before the committee. We have met officials from the Department of Communications, Climate Action and Environment to discuss the broadband issue and will meet them again. As Members of the Oireachtas, we are not experts in the area and, therefore, we have taken the opportunity to seek expertise. People who work in the sector, including Mr. Matthews, have agreed to appear voluntarily before the committee to provide some information and background. We are present to listen and learn in order that when we revert to the Department, we will be better informed on the topic, and that is the purpose of the meeting. Mr. Matthews is present not as a witness to be cross-examined but rather to help the committee with its work.

By virtue of section 17(2)(l) of the Defamation Act 2009, witnesses are protected by absolute privilege in respect of their evidence to this committee. If they are directed by the committee to cease giving evidence on a particular matter and they continue to do so, they are entitled thereafter only to qualified privilege in respect of that evidence. Witnesses are directed that only evidence connected with the subject matter of these proceedings is to be given and they are asked to respect the parliamentary practice to the effect that, where possible, they should not criticise or make charges against any person, persons or entity by name or in such a way as to make him, her or it identifiable.

I invite Mr. Matthews to make his opening statement.

Mr. Marcus Matthews

Before I begin, I note an error on page 4 of my submission, where it is stated that it took Eircom five years to pass 300,000 properties. The statement is incorrect because it took Eircom two years to pass the said properties. The Regional Internet Service Providers Association, RISPA, apologises to the committee and Eircom for the error and asks that it be corrected for the record.

I will take the opening statement as read and highlight certain aspects, including the background, for the information of the committee because I wish to ensure that the committee receives answers to its advance questions.

On behalf of the Regional Internet Service Providers Association, RISPA, I thank the committee for the invitation to appear before it and for the opportunity to contribute to its current examination of the NBP. RISPA recognises the important role that the committee serves in scrutinising all matters pertaining to public expenditure and appreciates the privileged opportunity to contribute to the committee’s work regarding the NBP. It is the intent of RISPA to present information on selected aspects of the NBP, which collectively should offer the committee new insights with respect to the plans economic cost-effectiveness and general value for money.

RISPA is a trade protection association comprised of 13 Irish owned and operated internet service providers, ISPs, each of which provide reliable high-speed Internet connectivity to predominately rural premises throughout the regions of Ireland. Collectively, these companies provide a personalised customer service experience and are committed to expanding their network coverage and adding additional services like television, enhanced telephony and broadband at speeds of 100 Mbps and faster. RISPA aims to raise awareness of small Irish owned and operated ISPs and to address the issues they face in delivering high-speed reliable broadband to rural Ireland.

I will now refer to the briefing on the purpose of RISPA's submission and appearance before the committee. In the eight years since the NBP began, network technology has developed significantly. This technology has been successfully deployed in other jurisdictions to address connectivity gaps similar to that faced by Ireland. Given the much faster deployment timescales and better return on investment opportunity to Ireland that these technologies represent when compared to rolling out fibre in the same context, RISPA feels that it is in the best interests of Ireland and its economy that an up-to-date alternative to the fibre optic-centric, single wholesale operator model of the NBP be explored.

This concludes the introduction to, and brief background on, RISPA. I will now move to answer the questions the committee specifically asked all delegations to answer in their opening statements. On the question regarding RISPA's involvement with the NBP, we have not been involved with the plan because we are a newly formed trade protection association. Over the years, our members have attempted to engage in the consultation processes surrounding the NBP but have only ever received token responses to their submissions. Accordingly, no RISPA member is involved with the NBP.

On the question of RISPA's involvement or discontinued involvement in the plan, our position is that the fundamental design parameters of the NBP preclude fixed wireless solutions that utilise license-exempt radio spectrum and, because the procurement process did not identify any suitable spectrum to be set aside for bidders wishing to submit a proposal which utilised fixed wireless technology, no RISPA member nor any other small ISP was able to partake in the process.

Regarding the committee's questions about challenges to the NBP, it is RISPA's position that there are numerous administrative, bureaucratic, financial and operational challenges with the NBP in its currently proposed format, a number of which RISPA will examine during its presentation. In brief, the association's view is that the NBP's procurement process has failed to meet the standards required of such processes as set by the public spending code and that the NBP is a fundamentally out-of-date proposal due to more cost-effective technologies that have come to market over the past three years. It is, therefore, the association's opinion that, based upon the project management principle of continued business justification, which is a rudimentary risk control concept designed to prevent the funding of projects with poor prospects for return on investment, the NBP tender be cancelled and that a new 12-month evaluation on how to solve Ireland’s connectivity gap, which incorporates both the lessons learned from the NBP and genuine effort to engage with ISPs via a public private partnership consultative approach, be started.

On communications with the Department in respect of the operation of the MANs, neither RISPA nor its members have had any such communications, not least because these networks are under a contract that renders any discussion mute.

Regarding the question of broadband provision and new technologies such as 5G, RISPA's position is that such provisioning efforts are progressing at an unacceptably slow pace compared to the needs of Irish citizens and the wider economy. It is the association’s opinion that the approach being taken by the Government, the Department and ComReg is ill-advised and could be greatly improved by borrowing lessons learned from other jurisdictions with similar connectivity gaps. RISPA's position regarding 5G technology specifically is that its inherent design makes it fundamentally unsuited to the needs of rural Ireland. The association will give precise details during its presentation to factually explain why 5G technology cannot be a cost-effective solution for Ireland. RISPA's position on new technologies generally, when these technologies are applied correctly, is positive. However, it is RISPA’s general assessment that 5G only offers benefits in high-density urban environments. In contrast, the advancements that have been made with fixed wireless technologies and their application to similar connectivity gaps makes them worthy of consideration as a possible solution for Ireland. In particular, the association believes that the latest generation of fixed wireless technologies, which came to market approximately three years ago, have the capability to deliver speeds of 100 Mbps or faster per subscriber connection. Given the low cost of these technologies and their potential to rapidly solve Ireland's connectivity gap in an economically sustainable way, the association will examine them in further detailed during its presentation.

With respect to the potential use of MANs in respect of the NBP roll-out, RISPA has no direct comment since the contract governing the MANs would preclude them from being utilised in such a way. Nonetheless, RISPA does believe that the MANs could play a vital role in addressing Ireland's connectivity gap if they were subject to competitive wholesale pricing. In this regard, it is the association's opinion that the Department's decision not to run a tender process for the MANs, after BT Ireland gave the Department more than six months notification regarding its keen interest in competitively bidding for the contracts, was a grave misjudgement that has set Ireland’s economy back 15 years. RISPA will offer information during its presentation to support this opinion regarding the decision not to tender the MANs contracts.

Finally, I refer to the committee's questions about the mapping of the MANs, private fibre networks, and mobile black spots. On the mapping of MANs, we believe that they have been sufficiently mapped and that there is little to be gained by remapping them.

Regarding the mapping of private fibre networks, it is our opinion that it is an important exercise because it could help the Government to make informed funding decisions that can avoid situations where such networks are overbuilt, that is to say, avoiding the occurrence of double spending where no additional benefit results from the taxpayer’s perspective. Consequently, RISPA believes that all private communications network operators, not just fibre operators, should be afforded a reasonable opportunity to respond to the mapping exercise and, in turn, that network operators should have an obligation to ensure that the data they supply is accurate so as to minimise the cost to the State. Interlinked with this viewpoint, RISPA believes any decision to provide funding for a network operator should not wrongly disadvantage an ISP who is delivering quality services in their locality.

RISPA's opinion regarding the mapping of mobile black spots is that the exercise is of limited value with respect to addressing Ireland’s connectivity gap. Our position on this matter is due to the nature of mobile communications technologies being unsuitable for the provision of high-speed broadband in rural environments.

This concludes our opening statements and our answers to the questions which we were asked to address in advance. I yield to the Chairman to decide whether the committee would like me to present RISPA's submission or to move directly to questions on it, if all members have read it.

I thank Mr. Matthews. We will move directly to Deputy Catherine Murphy, who may have some questions. I will follow her.

On the make-up of Mr. Matthews's organisation, he has said that it is a trade protection association. In his written statement, he said that one of its objectives is to "work with wholesale providers of backhaul fibre-optic network capacity to achieve better pricing and terms of access for RISPA members." Would that have to be done individually? There are issues in respect of cartel activity and so on. Will Mr. Matthews explain how RISPA's structure is an impediment or advantage in that regard?

Mr. Marcus Matthews

The Deputy is correct. Currently all regional ISPs have to deal with wholesale backhaul providers individually, which can be quite a difficult process. It can be incredibly time-consuming, which is a burden for small companies with working directors and so on. The main issue facing regional ISPs is the disparity in the costs of getting backhaul capacity. A massive dimension of the problem of Ireland's connectivity gap is the lack of backhaul capacity to sites from which regional ISPs connect their customers. The absence of regulated pricing is also a problem.

Where they do exist.

Mr. Marcus Matthews

Yes, where they do exist. Regulated pricing in general is an issue, irrespective of whether there is site access. Even if no fibre is running into a site, regional ISPs have to use microwave links, which are point-to-point fixed wireless high-capacity links, and daisy-chain them to bring the signal to a point where there is fibre. In each site there is an annual fee to pay for each of the links and the cost of that can add up quite quickly. The costs can spiral which means the money is not there to reinvest in order to serve more customers.

What is the geographical spread of regional ISPs?

Mr. Marcus Matthews

It is across the whole country. We are relatively new and more members will join as time goes on but there are approximately 40 regional ISPs throughout the country.

What component of the network do they serve? What are the numbers?

Mr. Marcus Matthews

The NBP procurement literature estimates that 125,000 homes are covered by regional ISPs. That is in the intervention area of the proposed 540,000 homes.

This is not using fixed wireless technologies.

Mr. Marcus Matthews

It is a mixture. It is predominantly fixed wireless technology

What percentage of the estimated 125,000 are connected with high-speed fibre?

Mr. Marcus Matthews

I cannot give the Deputy the answer to that but the estimate is that the majority are connected via fixed wireless technology.

Would it be around 51% or nearer to 70%.

Mr. Marcus Matthews

It is higher than 51%.

Can Mr. Matthews explain what fixed wireless technology is? Wireless means "no wire" but Mr. Matthews then says that it is fixed.

Mr. Marcus Matthews

Fixed wireless technology is designed to be used in a fixed context. It involves static connections in buildings and premises that do not move. The connection does not move from base station to base station.

In other words, it is a building.

Mr. Marcus Matthews

It is a building. It is designed to connect homes and businesses in areas where it is not economically viable to bring in fibre.

Is it like mobile phones?

Mr. Marcus Matthews

This is where the confusion occurs. Mobile communications technology such as 4G, 5G and LTE is on nomadic wireless technology, the principal design of which is to support devices that move between sites, not to connect buildings. The difference is important because the overall performance from mobile communications technology is not as good in a fixed scenario. Fixed wireless is purposely designed to perform in a static context. The difference is one of nuance but it makes a world of difference. Fixed wireless technology has a committed information rate, which is a minimum speed that each connection is guaranteed to get for a download or an upload, irrespective of the time of day, how many users are on, what they are doing or how much they are downloading.

Is it mainly for business, rather than domestic customers? What is the breakdown?

Mr. Marcus Matthews

It is not mainly for business - it is very much for both. Businesses in rural Ireland need a reliable connection and reliability is more important than speed for any business. I can give members some statistics for what the rolling 30-day peak requirements are. These days, many businesses in rural Ireland work remotely and from home. Those businesses require a reliable connection with a suitable amount of upload capacity, which copper cannot provide as its maximum speed, such as for ADSL which is the typical specification for rural settings, is limited to approximately 3.5 Mbps and will continuously drop. In such cases, employees constantly drop out and productivity is lost. This is why many businesses, which require reliability, become customers of regional ISPs. Regional ISPs use fixed wireless technology because of its inherent design for fixed connections and because it can give businesses a committed information rate, which will be the minimum amount of upload and download they require. The connection almost never drops and it is incredibly rare to lose connectivity. I have had a fixed wireless connection for over a year and it has never lost connectivity.

I am trying to understand this from the perspective of a layperson. There has been a lot of talk of 5G being an alternative, particularly in rural Ireland in the intervention area, but Mr. Matthews says it is more suitable to an urban area. I understand that 5G is worlds apart from fixed fibre but why is it more suitable in urban than rural areas?

Mr. Marcus Matthews

I will give a layman's description of 5G. The current 5G involves a software upgrade to 4G hardware, which is why the technical term is 5G New Radio. New radio code has been added to the software - it is not new hardware. This is part of the reason industry leaders like the deputy chairman of Huawei have said that consumers will experience no material difference between 5G and 4G. The chief technology officer of T-Mobile USA gave a presentation to the Federal Communications Commission and explained that it had only achieved a 19% performance increase with low-band spectrum, which is the band that relates to rural connectivity. It is difficult to see how 5G can significantly help address Ireland's connectivity gap.

Does the question of how flat the land is have a bearing on it?

Mr. Marcus Matthews

No. It is to do with how the signal propagates. Because 5G is more orientated towards high-density urban settings and short distances, it uses mid-band spectrum which does not travel as well. In rural settings, there are issues with trees blocking the signal, especially in summer when the leaves grow back. A rural setting needs low-band spectrum to travel and make connections that are not based on a line of sight. The amount of spectrum that has been assigned to mobile communications operators proves that the technology is not an efficient use of the spectrum blocks. If regional ISPs had some of the low-band spectrum and some of the mid-band spectrum, they could solve the problem. They have the coverage with their signal but because they operate in highly interfered, licence exempt bands, the spectrum they have to use cannot reach the customers for their service.

They cannot therefore deliver the download and upload speeds people need. That is the technical explanation.

I can see that and it is helpful. I will move on to the area of mapping. We already know where the MANs are and accept that point, which is a fair one. This is an area that I am concerned about as well. There is other fibre available from the ESB, Bord Gáis, Esat and whoever else. There is more there than we know and it is not mapped. We are talking about double spending. I am big into saving money if we do not have to spend it and getting a good outcome at the same time. Has Mr. Matthews any idea how much additional capacity is available that is under-used that could be leveraged, or is this just a mapping exercise that needs to be done?

Mr. Marcus Matthews

We do not have an idea. Regional Internet service providers, ISPs, do not build those networks. Their interactions with them are purely based on requesting quotations for a specific circuit to connect customers in a locality to get connected to the Internet, so to speak. They are not privy to that kind of information.

What the Deputy is getting at is a point that needs to be understood. We have so much capacity in the country, and regional ISPs cannot get access to that at a regulated price. I discuss regulated pricing in the submission and give the cost ranges that regional ISPs are subjected to as compared to a regulated price. They are more than 1000% more than a regulated price. It is completely mad. Part of the smart way to solve Ireland's connectivity gap is to put regulated pricing in a way that regional ISPs can access. Even if one looks at Eircom's regulated price, in theory it is there, but getting access to that by regional ISPs-----

Is that for Commission for Communications Regulation, ComReg?

Mr. Marcus Matthews

ComReg issued the regulated price. No regional ISP that Regional Internet Service Providers Association, RISPA, knows of has ever got access to that regulated price.

Mr. Marcus Matthews

I believe the technicality is that if what is called sub-ducting can be provided, it does not have an obligation to sell at the regulated price. I am open to correction on this but I am fairly sure that is the loophole.

If I can get my head straight on this, what Mr. Matthews is offering is not fibre, it is wireless.

Mr. Marcus Matthews

Fixed wireless.

I am not sure if Mr. Matthews was looking at proceedings earlier, but we were looking at the best way of providing this infrastructure that can be updated in the future. I mean this in the best possible way, that what he is selling is not what we want. We want a fibre for high-speed fibre network that is sustainable that is the same in Tullow, Tullamore, Tyrellspass and Terenure. That is what we are trying to achieve here. With all due respect, this product is not the product, to my mind, that we want.

I know from reading all of the documentation, that at the end of the day when this job is done, there will always be a certain percentage where there will be issues and we may have to use a product like Mr. Matthews product to complete the task.

We have had a series of people in to the committee offering different products and it has to be made very clear that Mr. Matthews' product is not comparable to, perhaps, the product that BT was speaking about before the break.

Some 125,000 homes would be connected with the regional Internet, that is fixed wireless technology, to a building not to an area, that building being a home or a business. Mr. Matthews mentioned about it is not economically viable for fibre and I understand where he is coming from on that. I understand his comment on the nomadic 4G and 5G.

On reliability of connection, and uploads and downloads, I am thinking of businesses, where the system gets clogged. If everybody in the company is downloading a massive file and ten people are on their break and looking at Netflix, such a system is not fit for purpose when it comes to-----

Mr. Marcus Matthews

Does the Deputy mean fixed?

Fit, as in the fixed wireless technology. I am assuming that the wireless as in 4G, 5G-----

Mr. Marcus Matthews

Mobile communications.

-----is subject to capacity issues.

Mr. Marcus Matthews


Is Mr. Matthews saying there is no capacity issue? My apologies, Chairman, but I am trying to understand this. If Mr. Matthews is providing this service in Tyrellspass to a home, or to a business with 50 people working in it who are downloading and uploading massive files and are working 24 hour shifts and have access to Netflix, is he telling me that are no quality issues with downloads with fixed wireless technology?

Mr. Marcus Matthews

No, because as explained, the key fundamental hardware design feature of fixed wireless technology is that it supports what is called a committed information rate. Mobile communications technology does not.

Mobile technology does what, sorry?

Mr. Marcus Matthews

Mobile technology, as in Long-Term Evolution, LTE, 4G, or 5G, does not have that feature. There is no way that one can guarantee network performance because it is not designed for fixed scenarios where one has a baseline.

One cannot guarantee network performance with 4G or 5G because it is nomadic.

Mr. Marcus Matthews

With fixed wireless one can. That is a fundamental hardware design feature.

Unless there is a tree in the way.

Mr. Marcus Matthews

That depends on the spectrum that has been allocated. Most other jurisdictions understand and have long been utilising fixed wireless, and allocate spectrum accordingly.

Mr. Matthews has mentioned "most other jurisdictions". Give me an example of another jurisdiction that has used this.

Mr. Marcus Matthews

I would have to come back to the Deputy with a list of-----

If it is "most", Mr. Matthews must know a few of them.

Mr. Marcus Matthews

I have not looked it up in terms of the protected licensed spectrum.

With all due respect, Mr. Matthews is at an Oireachtas committee and has made a claim, and I and my colleagues are trying to get the best product for the people of Ireland, and we do not want to be sold a pup. He has just made a claim-----

Mr. Marcus Matthews

I will give the Deputy an example-----

Excuse me. He has just made a claim that he has not backed up, and we are at an Oireachtas committee. If he wants to row back on what he said or provide me with information, it would be helpful.

Mr. Marcus Matthews

What I can say is, for example, the United Nations published a tender which proceeded to a figure of €28.2 million which came into effect in April 2018 to connect over 40 different mission-critical field missions in multiple jurisdictions around the world. It required a minimum of 100 Mb to 1 Gb per second to all of its field mission sites, buildings, sub-buildings-----

Mr. Marcus Matthews

-----in multiple different countries.

I am asking about another country, with landscape, population density etc. We want a product that is fit for Ireland.

Mr. Marcus Matthews

Of other countries that are doing this, Scotland is a perfect example.

Scotland is a good example for me.

Mr. Marcus Matthews

Scotland is a country which did a fibre-optic roll out very similar to the national broadband plan, NBP, as to its objectives. It connected approximately 920,000 properties for £1 billion sterling.

Mr. Marcus Matthews

That was the Digital Scotland Superfast Broadband, DSSB, plan which is recently drawing to a close. This happened over the last couple of years.

Of the 920,000 properties, is that the amount of properties in Scotland?

Mr. Marcus Matthews

No, that was the number of properties connected.

What is their total basket of properties?

Mr. Marcus Matthews

I do not know but I know that 2 million properties were connected in fibre over the same period that the DSSB programme ran. The balance of the properties, of 1 million odd were connected because they were commercially viable. No state intervention of any nature was required for those. That project with those figures achieved a per-connected property cost of €1,250 approximately.

As to the approach it took to fibre - I will loop back around to the Deputy's point as to where fixed wireless comes in - on their figures as compared to what the NBP proposal is, our proposal would work out at approximately 23 times more expensive, based on a per property connection basis.

In Scotland's case, the DSSB was to bring fibre to as many properties as possible - achieving 95%. For the remaining 5%, it launched an initiative called Reaching 100. That programme aims to bring fibre to about 150,000 homes or to get as close as possible to 100%.

Does 5% equate to 150,000 homes?

Mr. Marcus Matthews

It is in or around that. As part of that Reaching 100 programme in its procurement process or evaluation process for that initiative, Scotland realised it would not be economically viable to bring fibre to all those homes. Therefore before even launching that programme, it had already begun work on a consumer subvention programme, similar to what the respected Irish economist, Colm McCarthy, noted in his 2015 report and provided as part of the submission. The NBP probably should have looked at that. The intervention that Scotland is looking at is to give grant vouchers to the consumers in a technology agnostic way, so they can decide themselves whether it is going to be fixed wireless or fibre. They work with the ISPs to figure out what is viable.

For example, consumers in Scotland might get a voucher for £100 and they can buy it off the fixed wireless or they can pay for fibre, as the lady from Eir who spoke before lunch said, bringing the cable down the road. I think the figure was 30,000. Consumers get the voucher and can do with it what they want.

Mr. Marcus Matthews

They work with the ISPs themselves. The key difference in terms of why the scope of that initiative is so well thought through - the parameters have not been defined - is that it is a quality-of-service intervention. The ISPs will not get the voucher if they do not deliver the minimum amount of download and upload, response time and connection. Irrespective of the technology, the quality of service is the same. This is the type of intervention that would have made the most sense here in Ireland and would have allowed many of the regional ISPs to ultimately connect most of the customers.

I would argue that we would be looking to RISPA when we get to the 5% or 7% that we will have difficulties with.

Mr. Marcus Matthews

I will loop back to how the Deputy started the questioning, which was that fixed wireless is an unfit technology in terms of looking forward into the future. I put in an appendix - I was interested myself - just to see which technologies were actually experiencing the most research and development. I believe it is appendix A. I put in a growth trend analysis which shows that wireless specifications which underpin fixed wireless technology are experiencing a growth trend, I believe, in excess of 9,000%, compared with fibre which is too small on the graph - I think it says less than 700% by comparison. Also if one looks at appendix A-----

That is just showing there is more growth in the market for one product than the other product. It does not necessarily mean it is better.

Mr. Marcus Matthews

No. It is showing where the commercial research and development is going, where companies are actually investing shareholders' money into developing technology for market application. They would not be investing money at that rate if fixed wireless was not a technology that was exploding.

With all due respect, we are here to provide Internet to the people of Ireland. Commercial entities are there-----

Mr. Marcus Matthews

The second-----

Sorry. Commercial entities do not have the same remit as members of this committee and Members of the Oireachtas have.

Mr. Marcus Matthews

In respect of what Ireland's connectivity needs are, we need a product that is future proofed. The NBP starts off with a minimum of 30 Mbps download; it scales to 100 Mbps. So fixed wireless already delivers 100 Mbps-plus at the moment. That is before any of these current-----

It is before the leaves grow on the tree or because it is bad weather.

Mr. Marcus Matthews

Right, but that is bad public policy. It is not the fault of the technology.

However, we are in Ireland where there are trees with leaves on them and windy weather. I am not saying anything about RISPA's product. I am just trying to summarise. My understanding is that the broadband plan is for high-speed fibre throughout the country. There is an acknowledgment that it will not be possible to provide that everywhere. There will be a balance left and that is where we bring in an organisation such as RISPA. Mr. Matthews is arguing today that RISPA's product is currently equally good and therefore the idea of having fixed is not necessarily the best idea. That is what I am taking from what he is saying. However, all the evidence shows that in terms of laying down an infrastructure which can be upgraded and making it is as easy to set up a business in Tullow as in Terenure, from a planning and policy point of view the best infrastructure without doubt is connected with fibre optic cable.

Mr. Marcus Matthews

Well, no.

In terms of not having any capacity issue in the system, not having weather interference, not having spring and leaves on trees interference, there are significant issues with fixed wireless technology that are not with high-speed fibre optic cable.

Mr. Marcus Matthews

Right, but when the Deputy is discussing that she is not taking into consideration the great leaps and bounds that public institutions in the country have taken to make the roll-out of fibre viable. This committee's remit is ultimately the economic effectiveness. To say that it makes sense to roll out a project that is roughly 23 times more expensive than a similar project with an identical connectivity gap in very similar geographical topography is questionable.

What was the identical gap Mr. Matthews referred to?

Mr. Marcus Matthews

Scotland's connectivity gap.

Mr. Marcus Matthews

It has the very same geography and the very same issues with leaves on the trees and everything else. There are many properties in the proposed intervention area that will ultimately be connected by fibre. The question, however, is what are the properties that it is not economically viable to connect and how should we connect them. There are many regional ISPs that lay their own fibre and connect homes with their own fibre rings. They are not limited to fixed wireless technology and they also do copper. They approach a prospective customer with the best solution for their needs, having identified the maximum speed, efficiency and viability they can deliver via whatever specification it is.

It also comes down to a cost issue, but also then the requirements. In part the Deputy is saying we need to lay fibre because we need it for the demands going forward in the future.

That is what the evidence shows, rather than what I am saying. I am not an expert on this; I have just read all the information.

Mr. Marcus Matthews

What I did was I actually got into the numbers in terms of what-----

I got into the numbers too. Mr. Matthews should tell me about the numbers.

Mr. Marcus Matthews

A 4K ultra high-definition live stream, such as Netflix, requires a stable download speed of 25 Mbps. Normal high-definition live stream requires 5 Mbps. If these figures are considered in the context of an average Irish family of two parents and two children, and it is assumed that all are watching on separate screens at the same time, the total peak download requirement is 40 Mbps.

RISPA members who supply fibre optic broadband connections of at least 100 Mbps report that the 30-day rolling average for peak-time download demand, which is from 5 p.m. to 10 p.m., is just 3 Mbps for 95% of customers on fibre optic connections. If this figure is representative of all Irish households - I believe it would be - it means that 95% of residential Internet connections are already being oversupplied by 97% in respect of the capacity of their 100 Mbps-plus fibre optic connections.

Mr. Marcus Matthews

The statistics for businesses are different and reveal more of the needs that businesses require. Professional services oriented businesses typically require 0.5 Mbps for each employee as well as another 5 Mbps for live hosting of web conferences. This means that the vast majority of Irish businesses would function extremely well with a highly reliable Internet connection of 30 Mbps downstream, which is the minimum entry point of the NBP.

RISPA asked its members to present examples of the throughput needs of their business customers. Two cases stood out.

These cases had high demand or intensive applications, not necessarily just a professional services business. The first was an engineering business that had ten employees. It had a 15 Mbps symmetric Internet connection, meaning it was the same speed in both directions. The second case was a videographer who specialised in filming weddings in high definition and ultra-high definition, who had a 100 Mbps symmetric connection to support intensive uploading. In both of these instances, the needs of each business was met comfortably by the throughput of the Internet connection supplied. The question is why we are proposing to build this State-supported fibre optic network.

That is why we are here.

Mr. Marcus Matthews

We are here to meet the demands - to an economical price point and value point.

That is arguable. I get what Mr. Matthews is saying.

Mr. Marcus Matthews

We are not here to build an entertainment network for people who just want to watch Netflix for three hours a day.

I do not think anybody suggested that.

Mr. Marcus Matthews

The committee needs to be mindful of the statistics.

I have heard what Mr. Matthews said and I am clear on where he stands and what product he is selling.

Is getting more spectrum the greatest issue facing Mr. Matthews' organisation?

Mr. Marcus Matthews

It is one of them.

What is the holdup? Is the spectrum gone or is it being held for others? What is involved?

Mr. Marcus Matthews

The Communications Regulation Act 2002 allows the Minister for Communications, Climate Action and Environment to direct ComReg to set aside spectrum.

I know that is a process. Has RISPA applied for more spectrum to use?

Mr. Marcus Matthews

We have made applications and requests for years, with appearances in consultation processes, to no avail.

What is the rationale for not providing the additional spectrum? Mr. Matthews must have an idea. It is more than just a blank wall.

Mr. Marcus Matthews

It would seem to be a bias towards a particular approach to the market.

To the fibre?

Mr. Marcus Matthews

To the market in general and selling spectrum to the highest bidder.

Has RISPA submitted a bid for more spectrum?

Mr. Marcus Matthews

Regional ISPs cannot afford to bid.

It is a financial issue then.

Mr. Marcus Matthews

It is the way that the State has chosen to utilise spectrum.

Are there large fees when people get spectrum?

Mr. Marcus Matthews

The last major 3.5 GHz spectrum auction was for €68 million up front and approximately €20 million in the following year.

Some €68 million for spectrum? What would the total value of the spectrum have been? Should we ask the regulator? I cannot expect Mr. Matthews to know. Where do I go to find out?

Mr. Marcus Matthews

From the committee's perspective, the question to ask is what the most economical application of the spectrum is. Is it to take €100 million for it or is it to set it aside for more than 40 companies that are generating in excess of €500,000 in rural regional areas every year to provide a service that can cause a multiplication of economic value?

In appendix C of Mr. Matthews' submission, practically all the spectrum is assigned to the major mobile phone companies.

Mr. Marcus Matthews

Almost all spectrum in Ireland goes to mobile phones.

When Mr. Matthews said major companies, I wondered if the major pharmaceutical companies or others were getting their own spectrum.

Mr. Marcus Matthews

It is only for operators of the spectrum itself.

Of the mobile network. Have any on the fixed wireless network got spectrum?

Mr. Marcus Matthews

They cannot afford to bid.

So there are not at the moment.

Mr. Marcus Matthews

They cannot legally broadcast on that spectrum. It is protected.

What spectrum does RISPA use?

Mr. Marcus Matthews


What range is it?

Mr. Marcus Matthews

There is not a lot of it. They are very congested spectrum bands.

Who uses it other than RISPA?

Mr. Marcus Matthews

A lot of it is fixed wireless but it could also include home wireless, external Wi-Fi points and a significant number of different applications and technologies. The 700 MHz band, which is a low spectrum band, is coming up for consideration, not just in Ireland but in several other countries. I believe ComReg is part of a group from different countries, which is looking at this and how to reassign it. Almost any household name, such as Microsoft or Google, or any company interested in deepening and advancing connectivity globally to parts of the world that do not have it, advocate that the 700 MHz band should be allocated to fixed wireless technology. It is the last opportunity in the low-band spectrum for fixed wireless to get an opportunity to deliver services. This is a band for which there needs to be an econometric assessment. Does it make sense to get a couple of million up euro front? The committee must be aware that the economic figures used in the procurement process for the NBP to justify the approach for fixed wireless providers are from 1990. It is that far out of date because official bodies have not gone to get the information from regional ISPs and crunched the numbers. We are basing these significant economic decisions on data that are ridiculously out of date.

We will take that up with the Department because it will be back before us. A reason that we have a variety of groups before us is to give us information that we would not have had before we started this meeting. I thank Mr. Matthews for attending. We have two other groups to meet this afternoon. We are learning. It is complicated but that is what we are here for.

Mr. Marcus Matthews

I very much appreciate the opportunity to present the information.

I thank Mr. Matthews for all the documentation that was submitted to us.

Sitting suspended at 3.17 p.m. and resumed at 3.19 p.m.