I thank the Deputy for his question. The national broadband plan aims to ensure that every citizen and business, regardless of location, has access to a high-quality, high-speed broadband service. This will be achieved through a combination of commercial investments and State-led intervention in areas where commercial services will not be provided. The commercial telecommunications sector is investing approximately €2.5 billion in network upgrades and enhanced services, with approximately 1.6 million of the 2.3 million premises in Ireland expected to have access to commercial high-speed broadband services over the next two years. These significant investments represent a step-change in the quality of broadband services available.
Last November the Minister published a national high-speed coverage map for 2016. This map is available at www.broadband.gov.ie. The areas marked in blue represent those areas that will have access to commercial high-speed broadband services by the end of 2016. The amber areas show the target areas for State intervention. The map allows all members of the public, be they business or residential, to see whether their premises or homes will have access to commercial high-speed broadband services by the end of 2016 or whether they will be included in the Government's proposed intervention.
A public consultation on the map, which commenced in November, closed on 12 February. A total of 29 submissions have been received to date and will be assessed over the coming weeks. This will help inform the key decisions that require to be taken to finalise our comprehensive intervention strategy which will be published for consultation in July.
The strategy will address a range of important issues on the intervention, including the optimum procurement model, ownership and governance options, funding issues and levels of service for end users. Part of the analysis being undertaken involves consideration of identifying and prioritising strategic connection points, such as enterprise parks, schools and other points of economic or social activity in rural communities.
Additional information not given on the floor of the House
The proposed intervention will also be subject to state aid clearance from the European Commission.
Following the public consultation this summer, a detailed procurement process, in line with EU and Irish procurement rules, will be undertaken to select a preferred bidder or bidders. The Department will design the tender in a way that maximises efficiencies and keeps the cost of the network build as low as possible. It is anticipated that the first homes and businesses will be connected in 2016 and connections will continue thereafter, with the intention of having all premises connected within a five year period.
This complex and ambitious project is a key priority for Government. It aims to address conclusively current connectivity challenges in Ireland.