Written Answers. - Telecommunications Services.

Bernard J. Durkan

Question:

91 Mr. Durkan asked the Minister for Communications, Marine and Natural Resources if he is satisfied with Ireland's international rating in the area of broadband/wireless technology; if he has further satisfied himself that adequate investment, research and development is taking place to ensure this country keeps in step with competitors; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [10864/03]

My Department is striving to improve Irelands international competitiveness in the communications sector. 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.

My Department is 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. Five projects have been recommended for funding of €260,510. It is intended that the projects will run from January to October 2003.

My Departments primary role regarding research and development in the telecommunications and information technology areas arises through the digital hub project in Dublin as well as in funding technology pilot projects on a nationwide basis. The Deputy will be aware that both the Department of Education and Science and the Department of Enterprise, Trade and Employment have the primary responsibility for research and development nationally.

Joe Costello

Question:

92 Mr. Costello asked the Minister for Communications, Marine and Natural Resources if he has given further consideration to measures to improve competition among broadband and Internet providers; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [10820/03]

One of the key objectives of the regulatory framework governing the telecommunications sector is to improve competition among operators in the sector. The regulatory framework includes a number of provisions to enhance competition among broadband and internet providers. Among these provisions is the requirement on operators with significant market power in the fixed public telephone networks to allow unbundled access to the local loop. This provision is important in enabling the competitive provision of DSL services to customers. Competition in the supply of DSL services is now under way in the Irish market.

In relation to dial-up access to the Internet, competitive provision of flat-rate dial-up services will shortly be in place in the Irish market. This follows my policy direction to the Commission for Communications Regulation to put in place the provision of retail flat-rate dial-up internet access services. Comreg used its powers to bring about the provision by Eircom of what is known as FRIACO, a wholesale service to operators to enable flat-rate retail products to be offered to consumers.

The regulatory framework has recently been reformed at EU level and currently my Department is engaged in the transposition of the Electronic Communications Regulatory Package into Irish law. Transposition of the new framework into national law must be completed by 25 July this year and I expect that Ireland will have completed the necessary work on time.

This new regulatory framework is intended to provide a coherent, reliable and flexible approach to the regulation of electronic communication networks and services. The framework focuses regulation on areas where competition is insufficient and provides a lighter regulatory touch where markets have become more competitive. It will be a matter for Comreg to evaluate the state of competition in the sector, including the provision of broadband and internet access and, as appropriate, to impose regulatory obligations in order to bring about effective competition.

My Department's programmes under the national development plan also facilitate the development of competition in relation to broadband and Internet provision. 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.
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 competition and the provision by the private sector of "always on", low cost and high speed internet access to consumers, educational establishments, industry and business. The recent announcements of Eircom and Esat BT in relation to the provision of DSL services as well as the launch of wireless broadband facilities are an encouraging sign of developing competition in the Irish market.