I accept that the widespread availability of reliable telecommunications services in both voice and data are imperative in a modern economy and society. As a result of targeted Government interventions through initiatives such as the national broadband scheme, basic broadband services are now widely available across the country. In addition, the State-funded metropolitan area networks, MANs, are available in approximately 94 centres, including a number of small rural towns and they help facilitate the roll-out of higher speed broadband in these centres. The challenge now is to accelerate the roll-out of high speed services to all areas.
The national broadband plan, which I launched in August last, aims to change radically the broadband landscape in Ireland by ensuring that high speed services of at least 30 Mbps are available to all of our citizens and businesses, well in advance of the EU’s target date of 2020, and that significantly higher speeds are available to as many homes and businesses as possible. These ambitious targets apply to the entire country, including hard-to-reach rural areas. It is intended that the private sector will be the key driver of investment with potential State intervention confined to areas where the market is unlikely to invest.
The national broadband plan contains actions for investment, demand stimulation, infrastructure barrier removal, spectrum policy, potential contribution of State entities, and policy and regulation. This approach seeks to achieve a step-change in the level of services available throughout the country by accelerating private sector investment through a range of actions by public stakeholders, and particularly with regard to rural areas where the State expects to co-invest with the private sector in areas where the commercial case for infrastructure investment does not exist.
One of the first steps in delivering on the 30 Mbps and 40 Mbps commitments will be the completion of a formal national mapping exercise to determine the exact position in relation to commercial service providers’ existing and planned broadband services throughout the country. Preparatory work has commenced within my Department to expedite this mapping exercise.
Additional information not given on the floor of the House
The mapping exercise will identify the areas of the country where there is market failure in the provision of high speed broadband services. It will also identify where the market is expected to succeed and fail in the delivery of high speed broadband over the coming years. This process is expected to take at least a number of months to complete. It will identify the precise areas of the country which will require State intervention to ensure the Government’s commitment that a minimum of 30 Mbps be available throughout the country is realised. It is also expected that the spectrum rights in the 800 MHz, 900 MHz and 1800 MHz released following ComReg’s recent auction will play an important role in helping achieve these goals. The leveraging of this spectrum will be particularly important in radically improving mobile broadband speeds. In summary I can assure the Deputy that through implementation of the national broadband plan I am committed to tackling the digital divide decisively and to ensuring that much higher speed broadband is available in rural areas.