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Ireland To Legislate For Flat-Rate Internet Access

by Jason Gorringe,, London

29 October 2002

Ireland's Minister for Communications, Dermot Ahern, said last week that he would immediately issue the Regulation under the new Communications Act establishing the Commission for Communications, and would direct the new body to introduce flat-rate Net access as an 'absolute priority.'

The Commission takes over from the Office of the Director of Telecommunications Regulation, with increased powers. It will be headed-up by a three-person panel with one of its members being the current telecom regulator, Etain Doyle. The identity of the remaining two commissioners will be announced shortly, the department said.

Minister Ahern said he was calling for the move because flat-rate Internet access, which allows users stay on-line for as long as they want for a fixed monthly fee, was vital in driving Ireland's information society, and crucial for economic and social development.

"It is not alone my view that we need flat-rate access," he told the annual conference of IBEC's Telecommunications and Internet Federation. "It is the opinion of Forfas, it is the opinion of the National Competitiveness Council, the Advisory Committee on Infocoms and just about anyone who has examined our information society requirements - that Ireland needs flat-rate Internet access. Sooner rather than later."

Last month, Esat BT became the second ISP in Ireland after UTV to begin selling a limited flat-rate Internet product; both firms offer varying numbers of hours of evening and weekend use for a flat fee. UTV subscribers to the flat-rate package have to sign up for the company's Internet telephony package, but Esat BT does not have a similar requirement.

Both companies say they are readying true flat-rate products for next year. "The message we have been getting loud and clear from industry groups, state agencies, businesses and consumer lobbying groups is that flat-rate Internet access is urgently required," commented Bill Murphy, chief executive officer of Esat BT. "This is the key enabler in stimulating Internet usage in Ireland and to stop us falling further behind our neighbours in Western Europe."

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