I reiterate my support for this series of amendments on the basis that they provide for improvements in delivery of service, reliability and advancing the infrastructure of telecommunications for the future in keeping with the demands of the population. On amendment No. 10, the withdrawal of communications services is something we have experienced over the last 12 months or so. One of the provisions which should be specifically placed in the Bill is the obligation facing utilities involved in delivering a service to the public. It is not good enough to say that negotiations have broken down and as a result the consumer must await the outcome. The problem is that the consumer is not responsible, and it is not his or her fault. The consumer has to take whatever happens whether he or she likes it or not.
I know the Minister will say that within the Bill certain obligations are placed on service providers to ensure we do not have any replication of what happened as regards Smart Telecom, etc. That should be provided for specifically in the Bill, and this is the right type of legislation in which to do it. It would serve as a warning and we should not have to visit that particular area again.
Regarding amendment No. 11, I have tabled a couple of similar amendments on the same issue. We debated this at length on Committee Stage. We also debated it at Question Time over the last couple of years. The content of services provided by some of the modern telecommunications media is something that worries parents. I refer to pornography, Internet grooming and so on. Glibly, they are being told they have the control in their own hands. Unfortunately, it is not that simple. Parents do not necessarily have access to the means of preventing those who stalk through the Internet from making contact with their children.
The European Commission has already expressed concern about this issue. In supporting this amendment, I emphasise there are concerns among the general public and we need to be aware of that. When we put down questions, they are referred to the Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform on the basis that this is a justice matter. It is too late when it becomes a justice matter and the damage has already been done. We have got to find a means to intervene through advanced technology to ensure that those with nefarious intent are not allowed to pursue, at their pleasure, youngsters through the Internet, the mobile telephone service, bullying or whatever. The time has come to deal with that.
I support Deputy Broughan's amendment No. 12 on universal service obligations. In general Deputy Broughan has covered the broadband network issue adequately. He has reiterated what we, and the Minister, have said many times in this House over the last couple of years. This is not a criticism of the Minister. However, it is a fact of life that we have seen Ireland sliding, as it were, while the rest of Europe and the world has advanced towards cutting edge telecommunications technology. This is simply because of old-fashioned ideas. The structure was not right, something was not moving fast enough, competition did not kick in, the regulator did not have the power, the type of direction that should have been given at the appropriate time was unavailable, etc. As a result, we can speak to the man in the moon, but there are still parts of this country where proper telecommunications cannot be installed. It is absolutely ridiculous. That is not a personal criticism, however, and the Minister should not take it as such, but it is a fact of life that whether we like it or not technology has advanced to an enormous extent, yet for some unknown reason we cannot adapt it to suit the situations that exist in Ireland. This applies not only to the Black Valley, but to other parts of the country such as the midlands and along western seaboard. It is time for somebody to intervene and tell all those involved that while they play their turf wars, others who are entitled to service have to do without. That is not the way it should be.
I want to mention amendment No. 14 which seeks to ensure that the national communications network "is maintained to highest technical current standards in every sector of the network". We have spoken about this so often, but sadly it is not so. Neither is it true that the degree of investment in infrastructure has been sufficient to meet today's needs, let alone the needs of the future. Technology has a very short lifespan. In order to stay with the pack, let alone ahead of it as we once were, we need to upgrade and plan all the time. That should be done every year. A financial report must be made available to inform the Minister that not only is the technology advancing but the investment and the infrastructure generally is being lifted to meet the requirements in an area of international competition. There is no reason a country such as ours, which is involved in the production of high technology, cannot compete with the best. Again, I am not blaming the Minister and I am sure that were he to revisit the scene he would look at matters differently.
We set about, with electronic voting, to become the most technologically advanced country in Europe. Of all the things to pick, that was the wrong one, because it meant interfering with our traditional version of democracy, which the people have lived with, loved and enjoyed, instead of putting the emphasis on the area which is required most, namely, investment in the actual infrastructure. This will entail a review of the structures and investment in those companies that are likely to provide the services in the future.
We shall come back to this issue again, although not perhaps in the lifetime of this Dáil. I hope we shall all be back to engage on these matters at a later stage. However, I would emphasise that this is an area that will justify a great deal of supervision from whoever is Minister, lest we replicate what has been experienced in the area of telecommunications.
Ultimately it does not seem to matter whether the consumer suffers, and that seems to be the modus operandi. The consumer, as the most important party of all, is the one whom these utilities exist to service. Profit for investment is fine and very desirable and can go hand in hand with meeting the requirements of the consumer. The consumer, however, is the most important party, even in this highly impersonal age.
On Committee Stage, we went into some detail on the provision of landline telephony. The Minister is aware that counties Meath and Kildare have seen major housing developments. Many people in these new estates cannot get access to broadband or telephone services, a situation that requires attention.
I support the amendments because they spring from a clear need that has emerged in the past few years. This is not an attack on the Minister or the Department but it is a matter we need to resolve.