The Government’s statement of priorities for the period 2014 to 2016 reaffirms our commitment to delivering a State-led broadband intervention in rural areas. The Government’s national broadband plan aims to radically change the broadband landscape in Ireland by ensuring that high speed broadband is available to all citizens and businesses.
Since publication of the plan, investments by the commercial sector have accelerated with commercial operators investing, or committing to invest, approximately €2.5 billion in networks and services. I understand that at least one network operator has published a programme to roll out 43 fibre-based broadband networks in County Tipperary by July 2016. In addition, the recent announcement of a joint venture between ESB and Vodafone includes a proposal to provide high speed broadband in Clonmel, County Tipperary.
The Government has committed to an ambitious plan which involves ensuring the delivery of broadband services to those parts of rural Ireland that will not be served by the commercial sector. Services will be delivered over a network, with fibre at its foundation, which is sustainable and guarantees a quality service to rural consumers into the future. This will be the key element of an intervention strategy that will ensure that all citizens and businesses can access high speed broadband services regardless of location.
Under EU state aid guidelines, member states cannot intervene where commercial investors have plans to roll out services. A comprehensive mapping exercise is under way in my Department to identify those areas that require a State intervention. An initial list has already been identified and I can tell the Deputy it includes 79 areas in County Tipperary.
A stakeholder consultation on the implementation of the State-led intervention has recently been launched and will feed into the mapping exercise, which I expect to conclude in the autumn. It is my intention to conduct a full public consultation on the outcome of the mapping process and the proposed intervention strategy, and we will need EU state aid clearance also regarding those matters. This will flow into a detailed procurement process with a view to commencing the roll out of high speed broadband services as quickly as possible. I repeat that I regard that very much as a priority.
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I believe that it will address current connectivity challenges in a sustainable and meaningful way and will ensure that rural Ireland can enjoy comparable levels of quality and service as those experienced in urban areas.