Other Questions.

Telecommunications Services.

Seymour Crawford

Question:

110 Deputy Seymour Crawford asked the Minister for Communications, Energy and Natural Resources his views on consulting with the National Roads Authority in order that significant ducting can be put in place along the verge of new road structures to allow necessary cables to be put in place in the future at minimal cost; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [36907/08]

Deirdre Clune

Question:

121 Deputy Deirdre Clune asked the Minister for Communications, Energy and Natural Resources if he will ensure his Department undertakes a comprehensive audit of national broadband infrastructure including wireless, fibre, copper and mobile in order that he has a clear picture of the gaps in physical infrastructure that need to be addressed; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [37173/08]

Billy Timmins

Question:

128 Deputy Billy Timmins asked the Minister for Communications, Energy and Natural Resources when he will make publicly owned ducting available to network operators on commercial terms to reduce the cost of fibre roll-out; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [37178/08]

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.

First, I am not sure what the merits of underground versus overground in terms of electricity cables has to do with the roll out of broadband in terms of ducting. I do not see how those questions are relevant to each other.

I ask the Minister to give a little more detail on what is asked for in Question No. 121, which is the national audit of broadband infrastructure. Surely the place to start with any new national broadband strategy for next generation networks is to establish what is there currently, what we can use, where there are gaps that need to be filled and what technologies are available to fill those gaps. That would seem to be a basic obvious way to move forward.

The Minister stated his officials are working on a national audit of publicly-owned ducting, and that they will make tangible progress at some stage in 2009. There is another two months left in 2008. Why does it take so long to get basic information together from State-owned bodies as to the whereabouts of ducting for broadband infrastructure?

Can I get a timescale from the Minister as to when we will have that national audit on publicly-owned ducting? Is the Department looking at privately-owned infrastructure as well with a view to providing, through regulation, open access to it so there is an overall telecommunications web infrastructure across the country into which we can tap to provide more competition and more products at a cheaper price for consumers?

I take Deputy Coveney's point that the reply, in going into the issue of overground-underground cabling, possibly extends the intent of the original questions. Apologies for that.

On the issue of timing, that first audit is only one part of the series of work that must be carried out. That will be carried out quickly, I would hope within a short period before the end of this year. There are other complex issues in terms of how one arranges, prices and fits in the access to an expanding private-sector network and how one connects it in a most useful way. The audit is a first crucial step but it is only one step in a series of measures through which one must work in a highly complex market where there are a number of different operators and where the need for access would vary tremendously depending on different commercial needs.

Such access already exists in certain instances. If I can cite the bus infrastructure in Dublin where we have put in bus corridors, at that time ducting was put in place and that has proved hugely useful in terms of providing common access. Therefore, we are not starting without a base of experience of how it can work.

In this project we want to provide a seamless connection across a range of different State infrastructure and a one-stop-shop means an operator need not go to the Railway Procurement Agency in one instance and the National Roads Authority in another. Those various pieces of ducting that each of those authorities have connect together.

That will take a certain amount of time and co-ordination, but it is something we want to have completed within a year and have up and running next year. That is the target I have set my Department.

I have a brief question. The Minister spoke of the National Roads Authority and the Railway Procurement Agency. Is he including the local authorities as road authorities? I presume, they have a certain role to play in this. Perhaps he would comment on that. What has he done in the case of local authorities?

It should include local authorities. It should also include sewage pipes, water mains and other State infrastructure, particularly where the ducting can be installed during construction. For example, in this year's budget a major increase in funding was made available to local authorities for water infrastructure investment. I see no reason such water networks should not include ducting.

Is it going to happen? Is the Department doing it?

The task of my Department is to pull together the various diverse bodies into a single State resource under which ducting can be made available on an open-access basis to any commercial company.

What kind of contact has the Minister had with local authorities across the country? What arrangements has he made with them?

The first arrangement is with the Department of the Environment, Heritage and Local Government, which will work through the local authorities on a co-ordinated basis to implement the proposal.

What has the Department done?

It is working with my Department on the proposal.

My concern is that we will go to a great deal of trouble to put together a national audit of broadband ducting infrastructure — and other forms of infrastructure that can be used for broadband roll-out, such as fibre-optic cable run along railway tracks or ESB cabling — but that we will not undertake an audit of privately owned infrastructure that is available for ducting. The audit of publicly owned infrastructure is only half the job. We cannot have an intelligent strategic approach which is of maximum benefit to the industry if we do not know what ducting is available in private ownership, for example, in the Eircom, NTL and Chorus networks. We need to know all infrastructure available in Ireland, in wireless form as well as physical ducting or fibres. In this way the Minister can, through regulation, ensure we open up access to all that infrastructure to facilitate competition. Is it the Minister's intention to do that quickly, or is it his intention to consider only publicly owned infrastructure?

Is it the Minister's ambition to require open access to privately owned as well as publicly owned infrastructure, as has been done, for example, in France? This would have significant benefits in terms of promoting competition and allowing new entrants into the market by offering them access to infrastructure they would not otherwise have been able to access.

We have a backhaul network throughout the country. The difficulty is the cost, particularly in isolated rural locations. There are regulatory systems in place that allow a company backhaul access if it wants to provide a service. The difficulty is that the cost is very high because the volume of business, having regard to the distance, is very low. Thus, it is expensive to build networks in certain locations, and difficult to obtain backhaul connections. Competition helps bring prices down. With the development of Eircom's main network, a State-supported investment in an ESB backhaul network resulted in further competition to help bring prices down. Similarly, BT's having access to a backhaul network running along railway lines provides competitive pressures which bring prices down. What we want to do in the provision of public infrastructure is to assist the roll-out of broadband. Effectively, what Deputy Coveney is saying is that the State should have access to all private networks. I do not believe that is the step we should take.

The Minister should regulate for open access.

There is regulated access and there are regulated charges in terms of how broadband access works.

Could I clarify my question?

What I want to do is to assist companies on an equal-access basis, where we do have ducting, in providing the backhaul network for whatever operator wants to use it.

On a point of clarification, I am not talking about operators getting access to existing infrastructure in terms of a wholesale product such as unbundling local loops, for example, where a company can use the Eircom infrastructure for the last mile to access homes. I will spell out the point by way of an example. If a company wants to provide physical infrastructure into a local business or a housing estate and Eircom owns ducting into that housing estate, will the Minister require it to share that infrastructure through regulating open access to physical ducting that currently exists throughout the country as opposed to companies asking Eircom if they can use its fibre at wholesale prices? There is a big difference between the two.

Different models apply in the market. Certain wholesale providers of backhaul do it on the basis the Deputy is talking about in that they provide access to the unlit fibre and the client has full use of that ducting in their infrastructure to deliver it. Other operators will go on a wholesale basis. We are not talking about changing the market conditions for every different supplier in terms of the way they operate their business. What we are doing is using State infrastructure to try to assist each business to improve the backhaul infrastructure, recognising that the development of broadband on the demand side — mobile 3G systems, on-line video demand and so on — will require a massive increase in digital data traffic across the country and a significant development of the backhaul network. We want to make the State assets available to make that happen quicker and at least cost.

Regional Fisheries Boards.

Joan Burton

Question:

111 Deputy Joan Burton asked the Minister for Communications, Energy and Natural Resources if the annual accounts of the regional fisheries boards in respect of 2007 and 2008 have been laid before the Houses of the Oireachtas; if not, the reason for same; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [37146/08]

In accordance with sections 19 and 22 of the Fisheries Act 1980, as amended by the Fisheries (Amendment) Act 1999, each fisheries board is required, no later than a month after completion of audit, to present a copy of its accounts to the Minister.

As Minister, I am required, within three months of receiving the accounts of the fisheries boards, and following my bringing of the accounts to Government, to lay them, together with the report of the Comptroller and Auditor General, before each House of the Oireachtas.

My Department has, up to recently, received audited accounts in respect of 2007 from six of the eight fisheries boards and awaits audited accounts from the Central Fisheries Board and the South Western Regional Fisheries Boards. I understand reports on these accounts are still being finalised by the Comptroller and Auditor General.

I intend to bring the audited accounts of the six boards to Government shortly and lay them before both Houses of the Oireachtas thereafter.

The two outstanding audited sets of accounts will be brought to Government following completion of the Comptroller and Auditor General's audit and published thereafter in accordance with the statute.

The 2008 accounts will be prepared by the boards in accordance with the Fisheries Act 1980, as amended by the Fisheries (Amendment) Act 1999, and I expect them to be laid before the Houses of the Oireachtas in 2009.

Can I ask the Minister of State if all the reports from 2006 have been laid before the Houses because I am having difficulty in getting information? Does the Minister accept that the system is incredibly slow if we are waiting on the 2007 reports? I was asking about 2006 and 2007. I do not know how the question refers to 2007 and 2008 but that is my fault. I should have been careful about that but there appears to be a delay on the 2006 reports as well. I cannot understand how the production of these reports can be so slow and if it is the case that the Minister can bring a number of the regional fisheries boards' reports forward, why was that not done before now?

I was not too sure but the point has been clarified regarding 2007 and 2008. The 2006 audited accounts were noted by the Government in May and are due to be laid before both Houses of the Oireachtas in the coming days.

That is incredible.

The Deputy might let me make the point. Under section 10 of the Official Languages Act of 2003, annual reports and audited accounts must be published in both official languages simultaneously. The Irish translations of the 2006 accounts were only delivered to us on 22 October.

Sorry, in October 2008.

Yes, that is a year and a half.

Does the Minister of State accept that this is ludicrous? He is about to engage in a radical alteration of the structures of the fisheries boards but the reports relating to 2006 have not yet been laid before the House. The purpose of this alteration is to save money and make the system more efficient. I do not know how it will be possible to do so if even the most basic information has not been released into the public arena. I suggest that it is not necessary to wait for the full Irish translation before the English version is published. If it is necessary to wait, is it not the Minister of State's responsibility to ensure that the Irish text is published on time in order that the ludicrous situation will not arise — as in this case in respect of 2006 — where the relevant information is not available?

The outstanding accounts are with the Comptroller and Auditor General. I would not like to give the impression that there is something wrong or that something underhanded is being done. The delay should not have happened. We will not be obliged to tolerate that delay much longer because the rationalisation to which I referred earlier is being carried out.

This is the Minister of State's responsibility.

I am quite happy to accept that responsibility.

In that event, the Minister of State should get on with it.

It is also the Deputy's responsibility to table the correct question. The original question refers to the wrong year. Everything is not perfect. The original question refers to 2007 and 2008. I am trying to be as helpful as possible.

Under the Official Languages Act 2003, annual reports and audited accounts must be published in both official languages simultaneously. The Irish translations only arrived in the Department on 22 October.

When were the Irish translations commissioned?

The Deputy asked a number of supplementary questions and I am happy to deal with them. We engaged in discussions with the Central Fisheries Board and the regional boards and we expect the process relating to the submission of Irish translations to improve in the future. Delays in the submission of these translations have caused difficulties in the context of producing reports and accounts on time.

The Central Fisheries Board is obliged to make an annual report on its activities and on those of each regional board and fisheries co-operative society. In accordance with sections 19 and 22 of the Fisheries Act 1980, the Minister is required to lay the report and the accounts of the fisheries boards, together with the report of the Comptroller and Auditor General on those accounts, before each House of the Oireachtas.

A brief supplementary from Deputy McManus.

To conclude, the submission——

I wish to allow a brief supplementary from the Deputy.

Does the Minister of State accept that it is his responsibility to ensure that this information is laid before the House? How does he intend to address the problem of long delays? Restructuring the fisheries boards in their entirety will take a long time.

The submission processes relating to the annual reports for 2006 and 2007 were not in compliance with statutory deadlines. Both reports were presented to the Government in May and July, respectively, but are yet to be laid before each House of the Oireachtas.

So the Minister of State is breaking the law.

There have been delays in respect of receiving the Irish language version of each report from the Central Fisheries Board. Irish language versions of the 2006 and 2007 reports were only received last week. These report will be laid before both Houses of the Oireachtas in the coming days. If the Deputy requires a reason in respect of the rationalisation we are carrying out, I can provide it to her.

Perhaps the Ministers should be rationalised.

Health and Safety Issues.

Paul Kehoe

Question:

112 Deputy Paul Kehoe asked the Minister for Communications, Energy and Natural Resources the progress he has made in assessing the compensation claims of former miners who suffer severe health problems as a direct result of their time in the mines; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [37208/08]

Ruairí Quinn

Question:

143 Deputy Ruairí Quinn asked the Minister for Communications, Energy and Natural Resources the steps he will take to ensure that ex-miners are compensated for the health problems they have suffered after years of exposure to coal; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [37131/08]

Noel Coonan

Question:

148 Deputy Noel J. Coonan asked the Minister for Communications, Energy and Natural Resources his plans to introduce compensation for people suffering health problems as a consequence of working in underground mines in the past; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [37248/08]

I propose to take Questions Nos. 112, 143 and 148 together.

As stated in reply to Parliamentary Question No. 261 of 25 September 2008, I have no statutory authority to establish a specific scheme or tribunal to provide for compensation to people suffering health problems as a consequence of working in underground mines. In addition, I have no resources from which to fund such a scheme. The question of assistance to former miners, or any other categories of employees, who suffer health problems as a result of working conditions in the past is primarily a matter for them and their employers, and in so far as the State is concerned, of disability or occupational injuries benefit entitlement under the social welfare code. I have not, therefore, assessed any claims for such compensation.

The Minister of State's reply is most disappointing. What he said is total rubbish. He cannot, on behalf of the State, wash his hands of this issue. The Mines and Quarries Act 1965 not only gave the State responsibility for licensing mines, but also conferred on it the power to police them and ensure that they operated to satisfactory standards. Work was carried out in certain mines that was dangerous to human health. As a consequence of inadequate ventilation and exposure to dust, the surviving miners — of whom only 200 remain — suffered and are dying at a rate of three to four per month. What has happened to them and their families is a shame.

The State has a responsibility in respect of this matter because it was responsible for licensing mines and for inspecting and policing them in order to ensure that they operated properly. It failed miserably in its duty. The Minister of State cannot say that he does not have a responsibility for the mines. He has such a responsibility and I want to know how he is going to meet that responsibility on behalf of the State.

I thought my reply was quite clear and I apologise if it was not the response the Deputy was hoping to receive. A group to lobby on behalf of former coal miners was established recently and launched a public campaign to seek compensation for those who had suffered illness, injury, disability or a deterioration of their physical as a result of employment in the mines. The three locations specified by the group in question were the mines at Arigna in County Roscommon and Deerpark in County Kilkenny and the Ballingarry-Slieveardagh coalfield in County Tipperary.

The Deputy referred to the functions of the State. The functions of the mines inspectorate are carried out by the Health and Safety Authority. The person with responsibility in this area was identified under the Mines and Quarries Act 1965 as the Minister for Industry and Commerce. The functions of said Minister devolved to the Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment and not, as is frequently claimed, to the Minister for Communications, Energy and Natural Resources. The fact that the State was involved in providing licences does not mean that it should automatically pick up the tab for difficulties that have arisen in respect of the health of the workers to whom the Deputy refers.

The State was also responsible for carrying out inspections.

I do not believe any Member would blame the Minister for Transport for injuries caused, while driving, by a motorist with a valid licence. We must be realistic with regard to matters of this nature.

That is not a fair comparison.

It is not an unreasonable comparison.

The State has responsibility for inspecting and licensing mines.

The Arigna mine operated under the private lease and the Deerpark mine was a completely private operation. While State mining licences applied at Ballingarry and parts of Arigna, the fact that an activity was undertaken under a lease or licence does not necessarily impose——

Who was responsible for issuing the leases and licences? Who carried out the inspections?

——an obligation on the leasee or the licenser.

We posed this question previously and received the same reply in respect of it. A number of people sought legal advice on this matter in the interim and the answers provided to date, and repeated here, have been examined. The Mines and Quarries Act 1965 seems to clearly indicate a secondary liability issue in the context of the State, as licenser and inspector of the mines, having a duty of care. The position is somewhat similar to that which obtained with regard to industrial schools. The State was obliged to pay its fair share of compensation in respect of people at such schools who were abused by those who were not working for the State. At the time in question, the State had a supervisory role in respect of industrial schools and, therefore, had a duty of care which it neglected.

The same rationale can be used in the context of mining. I accept that mining was not a State business. However, the State had an integral role to play with regard to granting permissions and inspecting the way in which mining was conducted. That is the issue we are getting at here. A small number of those who worked in mines, over many years in most cases, are still alive. They are looking for a small recognition of the fact that the conditions they worked in, under State licence and supervision, have had a dramatically negative effect on their health. That is the issue the Minister needs to address today.

I appreciate the concern expressed by Deputies McManus and Coveney for miners whose health deteriorated as a result of the work they had to do. The health and safety issues they raised are covered by the Mines and Quarries Act 1965. Under that legislation, this is purely a matter for the Health and Safety Authority, which is under the aegis of the Department of Enterprise, Trade and Employment. I have no statutory authority to establish a tribunal to provide compensation to those people. I sympathise with the position in which they find themselves, but unfortunately I am not——

I am not asking for a tribunal.

I am making the point that I do not have the statutory authority to accede to the request that has been made in the House today.

We understand that there is no statutory responsibility in this regard. That is our concern. We are talking about a small number of people, as Deputy Coveney said, primarily because many of them died prematurely, having suffered grave ill health. The number of people in this category who are still alive is not large. It is generally recognised that those to whom I refer have suffered unduly as a result of the work they did in years gone by. I understand that legislation pertaining to natural resources is due to come before the House. Will the Minister of State consider the plight of these people in that context? Will he ascertain whether it is possible to provide for them in the forthcoming Bill?

While I would like to help the people in question, I am not in a position to give the Deputy any positive news. This matter has come before the House on a number of previous occasions. I understand that a number of former miners met various Ministers over the years. I do not think the answer is going to change.

Television Licence Fee.

Jack Wall

Question:

113 Deputy Jack Wall asked the Minister for Communications, Energy and Natural Resources the amount of revenue collected from television licences; the amount of revenue lost in respect of unlicensed televisions; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [37126/08]

The amount of revenue collected from television licences to date in 2008 is just under €186 million. This revenue is made up of €141 million in respect of direct sales by An Post and €45 million paid by the Department of Social and Family Affairs for the issuing of free lifetime licences. In negotiating the annual target sales to be reached by An Post, my Department factors in a target of a 1% increase in the overall licensee base as a means of reducing the level of evasion. I am not in a position to accurately estimate the number of unlicensed televisions.

The television licence fee forum, which comprises representatives of my Department, An Post, RTE and the Department of Social and Family Affairs, was established in November 2007. It is examining the efficiency of the present television licence fee collection system. Part of its remit is to discuss ways of tackling evasion and to agree a methodology which all parties can agree on in respect of the calculation of evasion. The Broadcasting Bill 2008, when enacted, will allow for the introduction of different classes of licences, which may alleviate some of the reasons for evasion. Some people will not buy a licence if they think they will not get a full year's value out of it. Owners of holiday homes and people who know they will become eligible for a free licence during the year are among those who may decide not to purchase a licence. The loss of revenue that results from people's failure to buy a licence could be resolved with the introduction of partial licences.

Does the Minister not consider that it is inadequate to respond by mentioning that a forum was established in 2007? Does he agree it is strange that the extent of evasion has not yet been determined in that context? I would have thought that the forum would have come up with some kind of figure, in relation to the extent of evasion, by now. Of the 260,000 new homes which were built over the last five years, one in five does not have a television licence. That seems to be an indication of the level of evasion that is taking place.

I am sure the level of evasion is much smaller in County Wicklow.

Radio advertisements appear to have dropped the claim that 18,000 inspections are carried out each month. That decision is to be welcomed because nobody believed that was the case. Does the Minister accept it is important to draw on this source of revenue, particularly since it has become evident that broadcasters like RTE and TV3 are experiencing a decrease in advertising levels? Does the Minister intend to introduce licences in respect of computers and mobile devices which are used to access radio and television services, but are not currently liable for licence fees?

I accept the Deputy's assertion that it is important to ensure we collect all television licence fees which are due. All broadcasters are about to experience a difficult time. I will assist the House by mentioning some figures I have to hand which make it clear that the number of licences being sold has increased recently. In 2007, An Post's number of direct sales increased by 45,300. The number of direct licence sales by An Post this year, to the end of September, stands at 757,795. That figure is 17,200 higher than the figure at the same time in 2007. Deputy McManus mentioned the impact of house construction over recent years. If I remember correctly, it was planned that there would be almost 80,000 house completions in 2007.

I referred to the number of houses which were built over the last five years.

I am speaking specifically about 2007.

I have given the figure available to me in respect of additional An Post direct sales in that year. Perhaps the increase can be partly accounted for by the increase in the number of social welfare recipients. Some properties which were purchased are not being lived in. We have to investigate and pursue the extent to which evasion is taking place in that context. That is why the co-ordinating body has been established.

Deputy McManus also raised the secondary issue of the possible extension of the licensing system to computers and mobile handsets. Such devices will have increasing broadcast capability as streaming access becomes more widespread. A difficulty arises when one has to decide at what point one changes one's licensing system in recognition of the evolution that is taking place. One needs to ensure one does not lose much of the revenue one currently receives. I will refer to two interesting studies which have been undertaken in this regard. The UK Government has examined this matter in great detail. It has decided that the point at which such a switchover is justified has not yet been reached. We came to the same conclusion when we were developing the Broadcasting Bill 2008. I was interested to note the projections for the broadcasting area that were outlined in a report on international media developments that was produced by PricewaterhouseCoopers. The report found that the steady evolution of the many-to-many broadcasting environment will turn into increasingly rapid growth over a five-year time horizon. It predicted that new Internet and other broadcasting systems will be used to deliver computer broadcast services. The international analysis to which I refer suggested that the traditional broadcasting format, whereby a small number of broadcasters provide services to a large population, will continue to be the dominant broadcasting mode over the next five years.

The Minister's initial response was unclear. Does he accept that if it costs more than €12 million to collect €200 million, the system is fundamentally flawed? Does he intend to continue to link the funding of public service broadcasting with the ownership of televisions?

Does the Minister agree that the system whereby people have to go around the country knocking on people's doors, checking whether there are televisions in bedrooms, is an outdated mode of funding public service broadcasting? RTE has suggested that the level of licence fee evasion is between 15% and 20%. We are all paying for those who evade. Would it not be more effective to introduce a new system, requiring all households to pay a contribution towards the funding of public service broadcasting in Ireland? Such a system would deal with the evasion issue and remove the outdated model that connects the funding of public service broadcasting with television ownership.

It is generally accepted that the level of evasion is approximately 15%. Perhaps the Minister will say whether he thinks that figure is correct. Would he consider abandoning the forum? After existing for well over a year it has not come up with the figure for evasion or the proposal on how to update the licence fee collection. Would the Minister accept that Germany has bitten the bullet and created a licence fee for mobile devices?

We must be careful as to how such an alternative process on mobile devices or a charge on data communications could have potential adverse effects regarding the development and encouragement of some new mobile technologies. I want us to be an early adopter of many of the new internet technologies. I would be nervous about immediately adopting a charge on them as an alternative to the current licence fee system. While nobody can be happy with the evasion, of which we are aware and which we are trying to reduce, it is still a working model which delivers. This year we are estimating a sum of €232 million.

How much does it cost to collect that?

There is a cost attached to that but it is a guaranteed model. When RTE was asked, in the joint Oireachtas committee on this issue in recent years, about its preferred development, it said that despite its statements on the level of evasion it wanted to hold on to the current system because it at least gave certainty on the revenue available to broadcasters.

That is no reason.

Telecommunications Services.

Michael D'Arcy

Question:

114 Deputy Michael D’Arcy asked the Minister for Communications, Energy and Natural Resources when legislation will be introduced to require the installation of open access fibre connection in all new premises being built here; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [37184/08]

In July 2008 I published a consultation paper on next generation broadband. The introduction of a regulation to require the installation of open access fibre connection in new premises, where practicable, was one of the proposed policy actions. I am keen to progress this quickly and I have set up a working group comprising officials from the Department of the Environment, Heritage and Local Government, ComReg and my Department to examine a range of practical issues that need to be addressed before a regulation can be put into effect. These include the technical specifications and standards that will be required for open access fibre, cost implications and whether universal application is practicable. I intend that the group will have concluded its work, with new regulations, as a matter of urgency.

This is a ministerial and Government commitment to have this completed and done by the end of this year. It will cost no money. It is about regulation and requiring all new buildings to have ducting in place to facilitate the kind of infrastructure we talked about earlier. Will this measure be completed by the end of the year?

The key is to get it right, whether it is December this year or January next year. I would have wanted it earlier rather than later but above everything else one needs to get it right. There are significant cost implications and technical issues that must be got right so builders going into buildings know exactly what they are doing and users, telecom operators and the householders get value for money through sensible regulations. Within a short space of months I expect to see those in place.

This is the new utility. All new houses, as well as having water, power and sewerage, will have a new communications and entertainment infrastructure coming in and out. Would the Minister accept the industry has grown impatient with him and his Department regarding taking definite actions to facilitate competition and the roll-out of next-generation broadband? That the Minister has fudged again on a definite timescale for making this happen, having given a commitment in the summer that it would happen by the end of the year, again undermines confidence in him regarding his ability to deliver on broadband promises.

The industry has seen the demand or sales of broadband double in the approximate year and half that I have been in office.

That is no thanks to the Minister. It is demand led.

Decisions I have taken, difficult in some cases, contrary to what Deputy Coveney has advised in many instances, have created a more secure environment for the industry to invest over €730 million this year and introduce new broadband packages offering up to 50 megabit connectivity that did not exist before I came into office. I am happy to stand over the record and see an industry which is beginning to invest and customers who are beginning to benefit from decreasing prices, increasing speeds and to continue that progress into the new year.

That is in spite of Government action.

It is because of Government action.

Perhaps the Minister would itemise the Government action taken in this area. In my experience, industry people tell me they are rolling out broadband facilities and making investments, particularly in the mobile sector, but it is despite the lack of decision making on regulation or investment. One of the examples of that is that we spent €50 million on phase 2 of the metropolitan area networks, yet we will not give a contract to manage them. Why is that?

I said in my response earlier that we have measures in place which allow access to that infrastructure. I am happy that the strategic decisions we have taken in the last year in particular——

How many of the 66 MANs are not lit up now in phase 2?

——which have ensured we are not facilitating one operator or platform ahead of another were correct. That resulted in a number of operators investing very speedily in the new networks we need.

What has the Minister done?

When different advice and direction could have been taken elsewhere I set out that path and it has been verified by the improved take-up of broadband. I look to expand on that through direct State intervention in terms of access we provide into houses, use of State infrastructure, broadband delivered to our schools and a next-generation broadband scheme which will cover every area of the country.

They are all promises. That is the problem. The Minister has not delivered on any of them.

Those direct Government measures, which are being delivered, will allow us to go further from the base we have.