A Unique Opportunity for Ireland
The Internet is dramatically changing how we communicate, how we engage in
commerce, and how we participate in the broader society. It is breaking down barriers to
education, healthcare, and economic opportunity. It is also transforming democracy,
creating the impetus for more inclusive democratic processes, and allowing for
widespread participation by individual citizens on a level unseen previously. But the
benefits of this communications medium accrue only to those with access. Thus, Ireland
must be willing to facilitate and build the necessary 21st century communication
infrastructures to provide access for all its residents.
As recent market data from ComReg has documented, Internet users in Ireland show a
strong interest in communications services delivered over radio spectrum. A third of
broadband users connect to the Internet via wireless and mobile networks and Ireland has
a very wide proliferation of wireless hotspots.
Among OECD-ranked countries, Ireland is 21st in terms of broadband penetration. While
Ireland has made significant progress in recent years, increasing from just 1.6 broadband
subscribers per 100 inhabitants in 2004, to 19 broadband subscribers per 100 inhabitants
in Q2 of 20082, to gain parity with the rest of developed world and promote affordable
and high-speed broadband access throughout the country, it will need to unleash the
power of new wireless technologies to bridge the gap. This will require Ireland to
modernize its current spectrum policies and focus on management strategies that
facilitate more intensive use of spectrum resources and encourage increased technological
Spectrum policy has largely developed under an assumption of scarcity, and therefore the
need to ration spectrum access as means to prevent interference among users. This has
resulted in a policy framework that placed state authorities in Ireland and elsewhere in the
role of hands-on managers of national spectrum resources. The "traditional" method
involved the relevant regulator or agency determining the technology and service to be
deployed in particular spectrum bands (allocation) and then managing the granting of
rights or licences to use that spectrum (assignment). Since the earliest days of state
regulation of spectrum, this approach (often referred to as 'command-and-control') has
been dominant. In recent years, states have employed market mechanisms such as
auctions and spectrum trading as means for assigning spectrum. In parallel, the
designation of specific spectrum bands as license-exempt or unlicensed has opened the
way for new and innovative wireless technologies.
But, the reality is that spectrum under current management frameworks is substantially
underutilized. An independent analysis of usage in the centre of Dublin (in 2007)
highlights that average use across the primary spectrum bands was less than 14 percent.
In addition, technological advancements in wireless communications are fundamentally
changing how we can manage access to spectrum, providing for more equitable and
efficient use of this public resource. "Smart" or "cognitive radio" technologies and the
shift from analog to digital for various services (e.g. terrestrial TV and public safety
services) provide a timely opportunity to reallocate significant blocks of spectrum for
new uses and services. In the next several years, Ireland has a one-in-a-generation
opportunity to shift how it allocates spectrum resources by moving away from a
command-and-control policy to a more efficient, flexible, open, and inclusive approach.
Ireland can learn important lessons from the experimentation and policy successes and
failures in spectrum regulation around the world and formulate a technology-driven
spectrum licensure regime that increases access and creates economic opportunity.
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