Written Answers. - Telecommunications Services.

John Bruton

Question:

249 Mr. J. Bruton asked the Minister for Communications, Marine and Natural Resources if his attention has been drawn to a finding by the National Competitiveness Council that Ireland ranked 15th out of 16 countries for access to broadband lines; if the situation has improved since this finding was made; and Ireland's present ranking among those 16 countries in this matter. [10795/03]

Bernard J. Durkan

Question:

269 Mr. Durkan asked the Minister for Communications, Marine and Natural Resources the current position in regard to developments in respect of broadband and/or wireless technology; the extent to which this country can or will retain its international rating in this regard; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [11111/03]

I propose to take Questions Nos. 249 and 269 together.

Since the publication of the National Competitiveness Council report there have been a number of significant developments which should lead to a greater take up of the Internet and broadband services and improve Ireland's international ranking. A number of communications companies offering DSL services have recently announced major reductions in the prices of their broadband services bringing the cost of DSL in line with the European norm.

In accordance with the provisions of the Communications Regulation Act, 2002, on 21 February last I issued a set of policy directions to the Commission for Communications Regulation focusing on a number of key policy priorities for the commission in the short to medium term, including the introduction of flat-rate Internet access call origination, known as FRIACO. This will be introduced before the end of June 2003.

The provision, promotion and pricing of communications infrastructure and services, including Internet access, is a matter for the private sector companies that operate in the fully liberalised telecommunications market. 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.

To accelerate the delivery of faster and cheaper communications services throughout the country by the private sector, my Department has run a number of programmes of targeted intervention in recent years.

Under the national development plan 2000-2006, approximately €200 million was allocated under the two regional communications and e-commerce measures. Funding under these measures is intended to leverage and accelerate investment in competitive advanced information and communications infrastructure and services.

A first call for proposals was run in 2000, and on foot of submissions received, nine contracts were signed at the beginning of 2001 which will result in additional investment in the regions in broadband infrastructure and increased availability of broadband services for business and residential users. The projects involved are scheduled to be completed by the end of 2003 and will entail an overall investment of €160 million in broadband leveraged from grant assistance of approximately €55 million. Projects funded under this call include, the construction of a new national fibre backbone by ESB Telecom, the development of regional e-commerce centres by Nevadatele, the extension by Esat of its national network, and the acceleration of the Esat roll-out of DSL in 40 locations.
Under a second call for proposals held in 2001, €3.7 million has been made available to Eircom in respect of DSL roll-out at 14 exchanges nationwide. I also understand that Eircom is rolling out DSL at 32 centres in the greater Dublin area and has DSL enabled 500,000 customer lines.
The broadband programme announced in March 2002 will result in the construction of open access metropolitan area fibre optic networks in upwards of 19 towns around the country. By reducing the cost of access to fibre rings, these networks will facilitate the provision by the private sector of "always on", low cost and high speed Internet access to consumers, educational establishments, industry and business.
It is expected that these projects will be completed progressively over the next two years at a cost in the region of €60 million. Construction of networks has begun in Cork, Galway and Mayo and further projects will commence once contracts have been completed.
My Department is also exploring the potential of satellite and wireless based technologies to promote the deployment of broadband access in Ireland, particularly in remote areas. Pilot projects utilising VSAT and wireless LAN technologies in diverse user communities, to assess their suitability as a platform for the delivery of advanced broadband services in the regions are currently under way. WLAN is a technology that was originally developed for in-house use, such as office local area networks but is increasingly seen as an alternative technology in the delivery of broadband services. Five projects have been recommended for funding of €260,510. It is intended that the projects will run from January to October 2003.