Other Questions

Social Media Regulation

John McGuinness

Question:

95. Deputy John McGuinness asked the Minister for Communications, Energy and Natural Resources the measures he will take in tackling cyberbullying; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [10087/13]

Éamon Ó Cuív

Question:

103. Deputy Éamon Ó Cuív asked the Minister for Communications, Energy and Natural Resources the role his Department can play in the regulation of social media; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [10068/13]

I propose to take Questions Nos. 95 and 103 together.

Social media consist of online platforms which allow people to create, share and exchange information and comment among themselves in virtual communities and networks. To date, social media have not been subject to a formal regulatory regime in Ireland or elsewhere akin to that in place to regulate traditional radio and television broadcast media. There is a range of reasons for this, not least the rapidly evolving nature of the technologies involved, the sensitivities of regulating media and the multi-jurisdictional nature of the Internet.

While it is important to acknowledge the economic and social benefits the widespread use of social media has brought to people, communities and business, certain consequences bear consideration. Challenges of social media use include harassment and bullying online, as well as issues of defamation, data protection and copyright. My Department has been involved in the considerable amount of discussion on these matters which has taken place recently at EU and Council of Europe levels. Social media issues are also the subject of a fundamental debate at EU and national level, a fact reflected by the recent decision of the Joint Committee on Transport and Communications to examine the area.

As Minister for Communications, Energy and Natural Resources, I have policy responsibility for providing a supportive legislative and regulatory environment to facilitate the development of high quality communications infrastructure and services. However, I do not have sole responsibility for addressing how that infrastructure is used. Responsibility in respect of abuse over the Internet also rests with the Minister for Justice and Equality and the executive agency of his Department, the Office for Internet Safety. It is clear that there are no simple answers to the challenges posed by the development and abuse of social media, not least because of the international basis of services and because any possible policy response falls across a range of Departments. In recognition of this complexity, my Department maintains open and regular contact with all Departments and State agencies with responsibilities in respect of social media use. My Department also monitors international developments with a view to ensuring domestic policy within its remit reflects best practice and that the regulatory framework is amended, as necessary. In that regard, I look forward to the deliberations of the joint committee and meeting it to discuss the matter.

This is one of the very serious issues that has developed as technology has advanced. While the joint committee is commencing hearings on the matter, there must also be a signal from the Department of Communications, Energy and Natural Resources and the Department of Justice and Equality that it is being taken very seriously. Cyber bullying has disastrous consequences and taken bullying to a new level in the schoolyard and workplace. We must be and must be seen to be more proactive and determined in the Houses of the Oireachtas and State agencies to find a solution. Cyber bullying will have to be tackled. I would like the Minister to give a signal that there will be an interdepartmental review while waiting for the joint committee to address the issue. There must be a sense of urgency on the departmental side.

My understanding is that the relevant Oireachtas committee is about to commence its hearings on this issue. I hope to have the opportunity to be heard by that committee. My Department has been seized of this issue for some time. Our position is little different from that of other jurisdictions which have found, for the reasons that I have set out, that one cannot simply regulate this phenomenon in the same way as one could regulate old media, if I might put it that way. Very particular questions arise here. Cyber bullying might well be a new phenomenon but unfortunately bullying is not and if people want to misuse and abuse a particular technology that in itself is not new. I agree, however, that it gives rise to serious questions and I presume that is the reason that the Chairman of the committee has decided to hold hearings on this issue and I look forward to the report that they will present to me in due course.

Broadband Services Provision

Seamus Kirk

Question:

96. Deputy Seamus Kirk asked the Minister for Communications, Energy and Natural Resources his views on the speed of broadband services available nationwide; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [10080/13]

Considerable progress has been made in recent years in both the speeds and coverage of national broadband infrastructure, with a multiplicity of commercial operators providing services over a diverse range of technology platforms.

The Government has also undertaken a number of initiatives to bring broadband to those parts of the country where commercial operators have been unable to offer services. The combination of private investment and State interventions means that Ireland has met the EU Commission's digital agenda for Europe target of having a basic broadband service available to all areas by 2013.

The Government, through the national broadband plan, which I published on 30 August last year, has recognised that the key imperative now is to ensure high speed broadband availability to all. The plan commits to high speed broadband availability across the country 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.

During the preparation of Ireland's national broadband plan, the commercial market operators indicated that they expect to provide 70 Mbps to 100 Mbps services to 50% of the population by 2015. The commercial sector is already committed to investments of the order of some €1 billion which will deliver broadband speeds of 30 Mbps to 150 Mbps to homes and businesses. For example, Eircom is investing up to €500 million in a phased deployment of fibre to the cabinet infrastructure, which is planned to make high-speed broadband available to some 1.2 million premises. The network has already reached more than 230,000 premises and is expected to be launched over the coming months. UPC is investing €500 million in its cable and fibre network, which is delivering speeds of up to 150Mbps. UPC aims to have this service available to 700,000 homed by 2015. Mobile telecommunications operators will be rolling out advanced mobile broadband products in 2013, following the recent multi-band spectrum auction.

Additional information not given on the floor of the House

The national broadband plan commits the Government to investing in areas where high speed services are not commercially viable and will not be provided by the market. My Department is making preparations to commence a formal national mapping exercise to inform the level of Government interaction that may be required and the areas that need to be targeted for a State-led investment. It will also form a critical input to an EU state aid application in respect of any State-led intervention. This will ensure that citizens or businesses, wherever they are located, have a broadband connection which meets their needs to interact effectively with society and business. I reiterate that the Government remains committed to the delivery of the speeds referred to in the plan, to ensure that all parts of Ireland will have at least 30 Mbps connectivity.

The first question that I had put down for Priority Questions today was ruled out of order because of the urban-rural regulator. I was disappointed that it was ruled out of order because the regulator has a huge responsibility.

Does the Minister really believe that broadband is being rolled out nationwide? Nothing will divide urban and rural Ireland more than this broadband issue. We have discussed this here in response to previous questions. Does the Minister believe this is happening for the people who are being left behind?

Will the initiatives the Minister has launched and will launch reach the desired target in the next few years?

As the Deputy knows, the architecture of the plan we published in August last year essentially envisages a three-tier formation. In other words, by 2015 some 50% of the population will have access to very high-speed industrial strength broadband. By the end of the lifetime of the Government in 2016, a further 20% of the population will have a broadband speed of 40 Mbps or better. The remaining tier which could be up to 30% of the population is the one on which Deputy Michael Moynihan is focusing. Again, the commitment is that by the end of the lifetime of the Government, no area in that tier will have a broadband speed of less than 30 Mbps, or 15 times what is available to them.

On the prospectus we are putting together, we have to go through the state-aid process. We are about to commence the mapping exercise that will have to be conducted across the country. We have to obtain EU approval because State intervention is demanded as the commercial sector will not meet the demands of some of that area, if not a good deal of it. The prospectus will require the successful bidders to commit to a broadband speed of 30 Mbps. The contracts, accordingly, will not be signed unless that commitment is made.

There are some other interesting innovations in this area, one of which is being led by the ESB which is in the process of selecting a partner for a joint vehicle to roll out fibre optic to parts of the country that would not otherwise reasonably expect to have it. There are developments on the ground that are leading to improvements every day.

Our digital inclusion strategy, to which the broadband strategy is central, is incredibly important. The Government has a good strategy. However, in the light of recent EU budget cuts for broadband strategy from €8.2 billion to €1 billion, a dramatic reduction, have we examined how this will change the Government's strategy launched last August?

I had hoped my parliamentary question on the national broadband plan would be taken today. Sections of my constituency in County Kerry cannot have broadband and providers are giving the customers affected refunds because they simply cannot provide broadband for these areas. People in the Maharees, near Castlegregory, have been in contact with me about this matter and are very frustrated. Those who want to work from home or set up a business in these areas simply cannot do so because of the lack of broadband. As was rightly pointed out by Deputy Michael Moynihan, this is a matter that could significantly divide rural and urban Ireland and it is one that needs to be tackled. What hope can the Minister give those who have been told there is no broadband service available for them?

There appears to be an oversupply of fibre optic lines between this country and Britain through undersea and expensive lines. They more than cater for current and projected Internet traffic. However, there is an inadequate fibre network in this country. I am glad the Minister referred to the ESB project because we need to examine how utility networks such as water mains, telecoms, rail lines and gas lines could be used as a means on which a fibre optic network could piggyback. Such a roll-out would save the country much money. Having a fibre optic network is the only way we can hit the targets the Minister has outlined in his strategy.

Deputy Murphy is right. The putative €9.2 billion that was notionally allocated for the connecting Europe facility was diminished during the process leading to the conclusion of the multi-annual financial framework budgetary discussions. The figure on the telecommunications side now is a rather miserly €1 billion. However, I do not believe it will have much impact on our circumstances. This subject came up at a conference I attended yesterday morning involving Engineers Ireland. A leading representative of the telecommunications sector was there and she confirmed my remarks to the effect that the private commercial sector is not having a difficulty sourcing funding for telecommunications projects. There may well be some difficulties in other areas but not in the telecommunications area. To answer Deputy Murphy's question, I do not believe the development under the multi-annual financial framework will much impact on our digital inclusion policies.

Deputy Griffin knows that there are no lengths to which I would not be prepared to go to ensure that Kerry is in no way disadvantaged in any regard, except that the league team is struggling at the moment and that I can live with.

It is only February.

The Minister should be under no illusions. It is only February.

The answer I gave earlier to Deputy Moynihan covers Kerry as well and that is the plan. In the short term Deputy Griffin ought to examine if any of the areas to which he referred are covered under the national broadband strategy. The strategy was an agreement entered into between a leading telecommunications company and the previous Government and there is a facility under the agreement such that the company was required to deliver to a particular area. If it turns out that the company did not do so then there is a facility to take up that matter. In addition if there were individual premises at a disadvantage they would have had a facility under the rural broadband scheme to subscribe to it. I am unsure how many have done so but it may be that some of the premises to which Deputy Griffin referred are included in that.

Deputy Colreavy asked me if I believed there is wasteful or excessive international connectivity between here and Britain. That is not my advice but I will certainly check it. The Deputy will understand that given the nature of our industry these days as well as the growth of the services sector, international connectivity is crucial and an important aspect of our lifeline. In my answer I referred to the €500 million investment by Eircom in fibre roll-out to the cabinet infrastructure designed to hit 1.2 million premises. The UPC €500 million investment is in cable and fibre network. Anyway, there is no country in the world that I know of which has high quality fibre in remote areas of sparse population. That is the international precedent. In fact, parts of the United States have no broadband at all.

Energy Schemes Issues

Seán Fleming

Question:

97. Deputy Sean Fleming asked the Minister for Communications, Energy and Natural Resources if he will provide details of his proposal to establish a €70 million energy efficiency fund; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [10084/13]

Sandra McLellan

Question:

133. Deputy Sandra McLellan asked the Minister for Communications, Energy and Natural Resources the private sector resources he expects to match Government funding in the energy efficiency fund; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [9983/13]

Mary Lou McDonald

Question:

140. Deputy Mary Lou McDonald asked the Minister for Communications, Energy and Natural Resources the way in which he expects the €70 million energy efficiency fund to be spent; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [9982/13]

I propose to take Questions Nos. 97, 133 and 140 together.

Energy efficiency is internationally recognised as the most cost effective means of delivering greenhouse gas abatement. It is equally important in the current fiscal climate that energy efficiency offers an opportunity to stimulate economic activity and employment and improve national competitiveness. Extensive studies undertaken by the European Union and the International Energy Agency have demonstrated the positive environmental and economic impact of energy efficient measures.

For several years the Government has invested nearly €250 million of Exchequer funding in energy efficiency programmes in the domestic and non-domestic sectors. While this approach has leveraged a significant additional spend in the economy of more than €250 million, it requires continued Exchequer support. This is neither necessary nor sustainable as a funding source. The programme for Government commits to a transition from Exchequer funded grants to sustainable financing initiatives. My Department, with the Sustainable Energy Authority of Ireland, is working intensively to create innovative mechanisms by which energy efficiency projects can be financed. These mechanisms must deliver demonstrable energy bill savings to incentivise individuals and entities to avail of them.

Last week the Taoiseach launched the 2013 Action Plan for Jobs. The energy efficiency fund is one initiative in the plan that will help to deliver jobs not just this year but also in future years. In broad terms, the fund will be established with the aim of providing at least €70 million to finance energy efficiency initiatives in the public and private sectors. Some €35 million of the fund is being provided through residual moneys arising from the closure of the carbon windfall levy account. Matching funding in excess of €35 million is being sought from private investors. Investments by the fund have the potential to create significant employment across a broad range of construction related sectors. Experience from the existing grant schemes suggests that based on an induced labour spend almost 450 jobs are directly supported for a year for every €10 million of expenditure, rising to 675 jobs when indirect employment is included. This is before competitiveness impacts owing to reduced energy costs are taken into account. NewERA has been asked by the Government to facilitate the creation of the fund and has been actively meeting potential investors and fund managers in the past few months. At this juncture I am not in a position to indicate who the investors will be so as not to prejudice the discussions.

The State is investing in the fund for a number of reasons. First, there is a well established shortage of finance in the market. The fund will be set up to bridge this gap. Second, where finance is available, the process by which moneys are lent can be extremely complicated, in part owing to the nature of the projects but also a lack of knowledge within the financial sector. The fund will redress this scenario through the development of expertise in financing energy efficiency, ideally becoming the lender of choice for such projects. I anticipate that the fund will lend to all sectors.

The fund will be supported by the creation of a national energy performance contracting policy framework which will standardise energy performance contracting in Ireland and provide a robust process for establishing investment ready projects. Work on the framework is well advanced, with a public-private group established late last year. I intend to launch the details of the fund alongside the second national energy efficiency action plan later this week, but first I wanted to mention it in the House.

The Minister and others have indicated that they plan to move away from grants that were administered by the Sustainable Energy Authority of Ireland, but they have been very beneficial in terms of what they set out to achieve. There is a significant need for energy efficiency and greater efficiencies across the spectrum. I referred earlier to biomass. Some of the power stations are waiting for correspondence or the go-ahead from the Commission for Energy Regulation to connect to the grid. Jobs are waiting to be created in this area. Perhaps the Minister might comment on that issue. In any replacement of the grants administered by the SEAI I am concerned to ensure ordinary punters or householders will not lose out.

They need energy efficiency just as much as commercial companies. Whatever system is in place, it should target ordinary punters also.

These are good schemes and every euro spent on them is spent in and provides work in local economies. They provide for energy efficiency in houses and businesses. However, there is scope to look further at the possibility of providing for small area power supplies. EirGrid, for example, besides looking at national and transnational areas, needs to explore further the use of small area power supplies that would benefit smaller communities, as this issue has been neglected. We fully support this scheme.

In response to Deputy Michael Moynihan, I should clarify that the energy efficiency fund has not been set up to replace the retrofit scheme but is in addition to it. The difficulty in respect of domestic retrofitting - I agree with the points made by Deputies Michael Moynihan and MichaelColreavy - is that it is a grants-based incentive, but in the programme for Government we have committed to making the transition from a grants-based incentive scheme to a pay-as-you-save model. Work is well advanced on it and the scheme will be announced later in the year. As the focus of the energy efficiency fund is on public and commercial buildings, clients may bid to join the fund to have public buildings, for example, hospitals, refurbished and retrofitted, bringing a big saving in energy costs and a big employment spin-off. I appreciate the welcome of colleagues in the House for this initiative.

On domestic grants, houses all over the country have benefited hugely from insulation measures taken under the various grant schemes. However, outside of the housing aid for older people scheme, changing from single glazed windows to double or triple glazed windows is not covered by the SEAI. Will the Minister look at this for the future? Many houses are well insulated, apart from the windows. Providing grants for double glazed windows would be sensible and provide an economic stimulus for that sector.

I will be happy to bring that proposal to the attention of the SEAI.