Written Answers. - Mobile Phones.

Seamus Brennan

Question:

29 Mr. S. Brennan asked the Minister for Transport, Energy and Communications if he has satisfied himself with the level of progress made by the second mobile phone consortium; and if the consortium has met all deadlines set in the agreement signed with his Department for the licence. [3837/97]

The licence for GSM mobile telephony was issued to Esat Digifone on 16 May 1996, with an obligation to launch service with 80 per cent coverage of the population within nine months. I am aware that Esat have experienced some problems with regard to planning permissions, which is not entirely surprising given the number of separate applications involved in such a major project.

The company has not yet failed to meet any deadlines but it is now clear that they will not launch service by next Sunday as required by the licence. I am satisfied that it would be preferable for them to launch with wide coverage even at the expense of a short delay. Parts of the licence, which are based directly on commercially sensitive information in the application, are confidential unless Esat Digifone agree otherwise.

Máirín Quill

Question:

30 Miss Quill asked the Minister for Transport, Energy and Communications if he will require mobile phone companies to consider technological alternatives to avoid the erection of large obtrusive masts in areas of high scenic amenity; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [3863/97]

Cellular telephony is a radio-based technology and is only made possible by the erection of transmitting and receiving antennae at locations which enable radio signals to be accessed. Where possible the antennae can be mounted on a tall building. More often, a suitable existing structure is not available and a purpose built mast must be erected. I fully understand the conflict that this engenders in certain areas between inclusion of the area within mobile telephone coverage and preservation of a mastfree environment. There are unfortunately no technological solutions which avoid this conflict most particularly where there are no existing suitable structures. It is, however, a matter for the planning authorities to seek to find the appropriate balance and there is, of course, a general right of appeal to An Bord Pleanála. However, my Department did assist the Department of the Environment in preparing the guidelines for planning authorities on telecommunications antennae and support structures which were published last year by my colleague the Minister for the Environment. These guidelines go a considerable way towards clarifying the issues for local authorities.