The telecommunications market in Ireland, including the provision of next generation broadband networks and services, has been fully liberalised since 1999 and has since seen the steady growth and development of significant well regulated competition in the provision of the full range of telecommunications products and services. Provision of broadband services, including next generation broadband, is, therefore, primarily a matter for the private sector telecommunications operators.
The Government is not a commercial operator in this market and can only intervene in cases of market failure. Such interventions are subject to state aid clearance by the European Commission. Nevertheless, it is a priority of the Government that there be broadband coverage across the entire country. Therefore, in cases of market failure to deliver quality services, the Government will continue to intervene, where it is appropriate and possible to do so.
The group broadband scheme, the national broadband scheme, NBS, and the rural broadband scheme are all examples of where the Government has intervened previously to ensure broadband availability in areas, particularly rural areas, where commercial investors have failed to provide services. The national broadband scheme, now completed, has delivered broadband services to some 1,028 electoral districts countrywide. A basic broadband service is now available in all areas of the country. This has been provided ahead of a European Commission target to have such a basic broadband service widely available across the Union by the end of 2013. The rural broadband scheme which recently closed for applications aims to identify remaining individual premises in rural Ireland that are unable to obtain a broadband service for reasons specific to the premises, even though broadband is generally available in the area.
These interventions are additional to the overall progress being made on the quality and delivery of broadband within the competitive market. For example, broadband speeds of up to 100 megabits per second, mbps, are already available to approximately 500,000 premises using coaxial cable. This will increase to more than 700,000 premises by the end of next year. Telephone lines now provide digital subscriber line broadband offering speeds of up to 24 mbps, depending on distance from exchanges.
Additional information not given on the floor of the House
In addition to these improvements in fixed line services, developments in wireless technologies are also delivering higher speeds. Fixed wireless products, are increasingly available, and are advertising speeds of up to 10 mbps, while mobile broadband speeds are also being increased. The speeds being provided through these technologies will be considerably enhanced with the availability of new spectrum as a consequence of the switch to digital television services. ComReg proposes to auction this valuable spectrum for the purposes of providing fourth generation high-speed wireless broadband services. Current statistics indicate that more than 80% of customers nationally have opted into broadband services in the range of 2 mbps to 10 mbps.
Under the NewERA proposals in the programme for Government, there is a commitment to co-invest with the private sector and commercial semi-State sector to bring forward next generation broadband customer access to every home and business in the State. This commitment must be implemented in a manner compliant with the applicable EU state aid rules, which I mentioned previously. The next generation broadband task force, which I chair and which also comprises the Minister of State, Deputy O'Dowd, the chief executive officers, CEOs, of all the major telecommunications companies operating in the Irish market and of some Internet service provider companies, is currently considering how best to facilitate the roll-out of next generation broadband. The purpose of the task force is to discuss the optimal policy environment required to facilitate the provision of high-speed broadband across Ireland. The task force will also assist me in identifying those areas of the country where commercial service providers are planning to invest and areas more appropriate to market intervention to ensure the Government commitment to next generation customer access is delivered.