I propose to take Questions Nos. 110, 121 and 128 together.
One of the main proposals of the consultation paper on next generation broadband is to facilitate private sector investment in next generation broadband networks. As the consultation paper indicates, major investment is already under way by the private sector, amounting to more than €400 million per annum, facilitated by a pro-competition, pro-investment regulatory regime. The paper also committed to providing access by private operators to public sector broadband assets. In particular, access will be facilitated to ducting that already exists along publicly owned infrastructure which could be used to provide backhaul connections.
While it is my firm view the private sector has the primary role in investing in telecommunications infrastructure networks, it makes sense to utilise State infrastructure assets to facilitate broadband connectivity on commercial terms, particularly where there may be market failure.
Accordingly, I have proposed two additional actions in the consultation paper to support infrastructure deployment. Major public infrastructure projects will, in future, install ducting at construction stage to facilitate network roll-out. A one-stop-shop will be established to make it easier for service providers to access current and future ducting in State infrastructure.
Department officials have commenced work to identify relevant State assets which can be used for ducting and laying fibre. They have also had discussions with the National Roads Authority to address the range of issues relating to third party access to their ducting. They will be following up quickly with the other State agencies, mainly in the electricity, gas and transport sectors to assess how best their assets can be accessed.
My Department is also considering various models for a one-stop-shop. There are several possibilities to be examined and I am keen that whatever model is decided on will give service providers efficient and cost-effective access to State-owned ducting.
My Department is progressing this work as a matter of urgency. I am determined that there will be tangible progress on this in 2009 so that we will realise the goal of co-ordinated access to broadband State assets next year.
On high voltage electricity cables, Deputies will be aware that I recently published an independent study on the comparative merits of overhead electricity transmission lines versus underground cables. The consultants who undertook the study noted that high voltage underground transmission cables do not compare favourably with overhead transmission lines in terms of electricity transmission system adequacy and reliability of electricity supply. The study also noted that the cost implications of underground cable proposals would be significant. The consultants stated the negative impacts associated with underground transmission cables cannot compensate for any of the advantages of such infrastructure.