We are dealing with the topic of broadband and we will have an engagement with broadband providers. This is part of our consideration of the appropriation accounts for the Department of Communications, Climate Action and Environment. We will be engaging with a number of broadband providers in regard to our examination of the appropriation accounts for the Department. The committee decided that in order to understand how value for money can be achieved in such a technical matter as broadband provision, it would be worthwhile hearing from those companies engaged in this market and have direct experience of it.
The companies and the representative body of smaller providers are here voluntarily. They are not under examination by the Committee of Public Accounts. They are here to help us understand the Department’s effectiveness in regard to the national broadband plan and broadband provision in general.
We have five groups here today, BT, Eir, the Regional Internet Service Providers Association, Imagine and Enet. The engagements will be short and we have asked each of the companies to address a specific number of items as follows: outline the company’s involvement with the national broadband plan, or its non-involvement, as the case may be, or its discontinuance of involvement if it had been involved and is no longer involved; describe briefly what it sees as the administrative and bureaucratic challenges and financial and operational challenges with the plan; comment on any communications with the Department in regard to the operation of metropolitan area networks, MANs; comment on facilitation of provision of broadband services throughout the country and new technologies, such as 5G; comment on the potential use of MANs for rollout of the national broadband plan, where appropriate; and comment on mapping of MANs, private fibre networks and mobile blackspots.
I emphasise that the companies are here voluntarily to assist us and we are very grateful they are here. They are not here as witnesses from a Government Department or agency, who can be required to attend. They are here to help us with our understanding. As Oireachtas Members, we are lay people with no technical knowledge of this area. We had a preliminary discussion with the Department on it and we felt we could do with a broader understanding of the broadband issue, if the witnesses will pardon the pun. We have asked people involved in the industry to come in so that we can listen and learn. That is why we are here today, not to examine them in regard to their particular company.
I welcome from BT, Mr. Peter Evans, director of wholesale, pre-sales and strategy. He is accompanied by Mr. John O’Dwyer, head of regulation.
I remind members, witnesses and those in the Visitors Gallery that all mobile phones must be switched off or switched to airplane mode. Leaving them on silent mode is not enough as they may still interfere with the recording and broadcasting systems.
By virtue of section 17(2)(l) of the Defamation Act 2009, witnesses are protected by absolute privilege in respect of their evidence to the committee. However, if they are directed by it to cease giving evidence on a particular matter and continue to so do, they are entitled thereafter only to qualified privilege in respect of their evidence. They are directed that only evidence connected with the subject matter of these proceedings is to be given and are asked to respect the parliamentary practice to the effect that, where possible, they should not criticise or make charges against any person or entity by name or in such a way as to make him, her or it identifiable.
Members are reminded of the provisions of Standing Order 186 that the committee shall refrain from inquiring into the merits of a policy or policies of the Government or a Minister of the Government or the merits of the objectives of such policy or policies. If any member happens to ask what the witnesses think of the Department's view, they are not here to answer for the Department. That is a matter we will address to the Department, and there is no problem in replying in that way if someone inadvertently puts such a question to them.
I invite Mr. Evans to make his opening statement.