Written Answers. - Broadband Services.

David Stanton

Question:

190 Mr. Stanton asked the Minister for Communications, Marine and Natural Resources the impediments to and likely drivers of broadband take-up, particularly in key sectors such as small business, education, health and the community services; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [14355/02]

One of the principal factors which affects the uptake of broadband services is the price at which they are available. The price is in large part determined by the supply of the infrastructure and services which, in a fully liberated communications market is the responsibility of the private sector companies offering these services. The ODTR also has a role in regulating the prices at which broadband is made available. My responsibility is for public policy in the sector within which these companies operate. The widest possible availability of competitive services has traditionally been an important objective of Irish telecommunications policy.

However, recognising that there are areas of the country that are not as economically attractive for firms to invest in infrastructure and services, my Department has undertaken a number of initiatives to facilitate the roll-out of advanced communications infrastructure which seek to address gaps in communications infrastructure in regional Ireland.

In 1999, under the National Development Plan 1994-1999 and INTERREG II, €26 million was made available to support the roll-out of broadband to the regions. Thirteen projects which rolled out broadband nationwide to a value, both public and private funding, of €70 million were supported and are now completed. These projects entailed the roll-out of broadband services in the Border, midlands and west region and the south and east region.

Under the National Development Plan 2000-2006, the figure allocated to telecommunications initiatives was approximately €200 million. Funding under this communications and e-commerce measure of the NDP will be utilised to leverage and accelerate investment in competitive advanced information and communications infrastructure and services which will enhance the potential for the development of electronic commerce facilities and enable the electronic provision of public services, including education services, virtual libraries, welfare and health services.

A first call for proposals was run in 2000 and on foot of submissions received, nine contracts were signed at the beginning of last year which will result in additional investment in the regions in broadband infrastructure. The projects involved will be completed over the next two years and will entail overall investment of €160 million in broadband leveraged from grant assistance of approximately €55 million. Details of these programmes are available on the Internet at www.ndpcomms.gov.ie
At the beginning of August 2001 I announced a second call for proposals. In all, 31 proposals were received. These submissions were independently evaluated and the results of the evaluation were finalised at the beginning of this year.
On 8 March phases one and two of a regional broadband programme were launched and will ultimately see investment of up to €160 million in delivering town fibre optic networks in key locations regionally. A further phase of investment in broadband based on the outcome of phase one will involve each of the 26 counties.
Phase one of the broadband programme will see 19 towns, many in the Border, midlands and west, BMW, region targeted immediately. Metropolitan area fibre optic networks will be built in these towns to link up with the existing backbone network in the country. The town links will facilitate consumers, educational establishments, industry and business and provide "always on" low cost and high speed Internet access which will drive the Government's e-commerce agenda. The relevant local authorities have been asked to enter procurement to establish firm prices for their proposals. Once procurement is completed, and subject to satisfactory pricing, contracts will be offered for these projects. It is anticipated that this will take place over the next two months. The first phase is being conducted in association with local and regional authorities which will receive 90% funding from the Exchequer.
Encouraging the uptake of e-commerce by small businesses is the responsibility of the Department of Enterprise, Trade and Employment which has, in conjunction with its agencies, developed a number of e-business initiatives to assist Irish companies in developing the appropriate strategies to successfully harness the full potential of the new information and communication technologies, ICTs.
The key initiative towards these ends, which have been implemented by the Department of Enterprise, Trade and Employment and the development agencies is the Enterprise Ireland e-business acceleration fund. In addition, Enterprise Ireland has spent approximately €13 million to raise awareness and provided information and advice for companies seeking to adopt e-business through a dedicated e-business website, www.openup.ie. The Department of the Taoiseach has the responsibility of the overall stewardship of the information society and the implementation of the eEurope action plan 2005.