Ceisteanna — Questions. Oral Answers. - Direct Satellite Broadcasting.

3.

asked the Minister for Communications if he will make a statement outlining the details of the proposed contract to grant a licence to provide direct satellite broadcasting.

12.

asked the Minister for Communications if he proposes to bring legislation before the Dáil prior to entering into a contract to grant a direct satellite broadcasting licence.

I propose to take Questions Nos. 3 and 12 together.

The Government invited proposals in November 1983 for the provision on a concessionary basis of an Irish satellite network and an Irish direct broadcasting satellite service, preferably with some telecommunications capacity. The closing date for receipt of proposals was 31 July 1984.

The proposals received were evaluated in detail by an inter-departmental committee and the committee's recommendation was approved by the Government. On 18 September 1985 the Minister for Communications announced that the Government had decided, in principle, to enter into negotiations with Atlantic Satellites plc, 15 Kildare Street, Dublin 2, with a view to concluding an agreement to allow that company to construct and put into place the necessary satellite infrastructure and hardware which will enable this country to take advantage of direct broadcasting by satellite. The development of this facility is to be fully integrated with the requirements and development plans of Irish users, particularly Radio Telefís Éireann and Bord Telecom Éireann.

The question of entering into a formal contract with the company will not arise until the company have satisfactorily complied with a number of conditions. The company are required to formulate and submit for approval a detailed business plan relating to the provision and operation of the satellite network and the disposal of the broadcasting and telecommunications capacity to be provided on the network. In conjunction with the submission of the business plan the company are required to submit firm proposals to provide maximum assistance and encouragement in relation to the involvement of Irish firms in all aspects of the project. In addition, a proposal acceptable to the Government to remunerate the State, in return for the concession to provide the network, has to be negotiated. The company have been given until March 1986 to comply with these conditions.

A review of the adequacy of existing legislation to deal with the project will be undertaken before any contract is concluded and should additional statutory powers prove necessary the Minister will bring appropriate proposals before the Oireachtas in due course.

The Minister was called on to give some details in this question, but would he indicate the division of the service between telecommunications and the provision of television channels?

I am not in a position to give an exact breakdown, but one of the regulations says that provision should be made in case of necessity for the telecommunications service, but this type of satellite has a substantial capacity which is interchangeable between broadcasting and the television networks. The Deputy was involved in the early stages of these negotiations. One of our primary considerations is to ensure that we safeguard the possibility if necessary, of using the telecommunications network.

That will be written into the contract?

As the Deputy is aware, there is a great deal of capacity from other satellites in which we share telecommunications participation——

Would this provision in the telecommunications field mean we would be able to dispense with the present system and that the State would be saving money?

We are also beneficiaries from our shareholding in the various companies, and we do quite nicely out of them. This was one of the good investments by the State in the past when the decision was taken to participate in these companies. The percentage is worked out according to use. All these permutations will have to be considered. I have heard it said that there is a possibility of these satellites being used to improve the telecommunications network within the State itself, in addition to international and intercontinental communications.

The operation of the satellite will be already within the footprint already allocated to us?

Yes, on 31º West.

And that will be written into the contract, apart from any legislation?

We have no right to operate other than on 31º West in accordance with the Geneva Convention of 1977.

In view of the fact that we are moving into the satellite age and that at present the cabling of signals has become too costly, will the Minister tell the House if the Government will legalise the deflecting of television and broadcasting signals in the near future. Have the Government any proposals to ensure that we can take the maximum advantage from satellite broadcasting when it becomes available?

That is a separate question.

It is very important.

It might become unnecessary with 20 stations——

The Minister should not answer a question when the Chair rules it out of order.

I am very disappointed.