I propose to take Questions Nos. 6. and 11 together.
The Government’s national broadband plan, which I published in August 2012, aims to change radically the broadband landscape in Ireland by ensuring that high speed broadband is available to all citizens and businesses. That will be achieved by providing a policy and regulatory framework that assists in accelerating and incentivising commercial investment, and State-led intervention for areas where it is not commercial for the market to invest.
Since publication of the plan, investments by the commercial sector are under way and in some instances have been accelerated in both fixed line and wireless high speed broadband services. Commercial operators combined have either invested, or committed to invest, more than €2 billion in their Irish networks, delivering high speed broadband to homes and businesses. As a result of this accelerated investment the addressable area required by the State-led intervention has reduced by 30% since the national broadband plan was launched. While these commercial developments are welcome, investment is largely contained to cities and towns. Consequently, the speeds that are available in these areas are demonstrably better than those that are available in more rural areas such as those raised by Deputy Wallace.
On 25 April last, I signalled the Government's commitment to a major telecommunications network build-out to rural Ireland, with fibre as the foundation of its investment, as part of the State-led intervention under the national broadband plan. This commitment is a clear expression of Government’s determination to address the connectivity challenge in rural Ireland in a meaningful and sustainable way. Central to the strategy will be a fibre build-out to locations in every county in the State identified as having no existing or planned enabling fibre network. It is intended that the fibre will be delivered directly to access points for homes and businesses, where service providers can utilise the fibre to provide high speed services to end users.
I have published a county-by-county list of towns and villages which have already been identified for a fibre build-out. It is an indicative list and is subject to the completion of the comprehensive mapping exercise currently under way in my Department. Further locations may be identified as this process continues. Similarly, it may be determined that some locations on the list will be addressed by the commercial sector and will therefore not require State intervention. The list, which is just short of 1,100 villages, is available on my Department's website www.dcenr.gov.ie. I expect that the mapping exercise will be concluded in the autumn.
In tandem with the completion of the mapping exercise, intensive design and planning work is ongoing in my Department with a view to producing a detailed end-to-end implementation strategy for the State-led intervention. It is my intention to conduct a full public consultation on the outcome of the mapping process and the proposed implementation strategy. My Department has had initial discussions with the European Commission on the relevant state aid guidelines and a formal application for EU state aid application will be made to the Commission once details of the intervention are finalised. That will be followed by a detailed procurement process with a view to commencing construction of the fibre network and provision of services in identified areas as quickly as possible.
The European Commission’s guidelines on state aid for high speed broadband infrastructure preclude member states from intervening in regions in which private investors have demonstrated plans to roll out infrastructure within the following three years.
In this regard, I understand that at least one network operator has published a programme to roll out fibre-based broadband networks in County Wexford, including the area of Wellingtonbridge, by July 2016.