Written Answers. - Telecommunications Services.

Denis Naughten

Question:

94 Mr. Naughten asked the Minister for Communications, Marine and Natural Resources the action he intends to take to address the current broadband deficit; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [10612/03]

In March 2002 the interdepartmental working group on telecommunications recommended the design and construction of metropolitan area networks in towns and cities across the country, and the setting up of a number of trials of alternative technologies, such as wireless local area networks. Some 19 locations were recommended for the construction of metropolitan area networks, namely, Cork, Limerick, Galway, Ballina, Athlone, Mullingar, Portlaoise, Tullamore, Carlow, Kilkenny, Wexford, Waterford, Dungarvan, Clonmel, Roscommon, Letterkenny, Carrick-on-Shannon, Manorhamilton and Bunbeg.

Funding of over €64 million has been committed to these projects over the two years 2003 and 2004. These projects will all commence construction within this year, with completion by mid-2004. Four of the networks, Cork, Galway, Ballina and Limerick, are now in the construction phase.

Trials of wireless local area networks are under way in a number of locations, including Dublin, Cork, Limerick, Galway, Westport, Sligo and the North-East. A final report on these trials is expected in October 2003.

A modern, high-speed, low-cost communications network is an essential enabler of economic activity and social inclusion. The widespread availability of open-access, affordable, always-on broadband infrastructure and services for businesses and citizens is a priority for the Government and my Department.

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. Also, 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. This should help increase significantly the level of interest in broadband uptake in this country.