I am pleased to have the opportunity to speak about broadband provision. Last week before the adjournment of statements I made reference to a meeting I had had in Sligo with a UK company which was prepared and eager to set up a business in my home town of Ballymote. We were looking at between eight and ten jobs being provided. Unfortunately, we do not have a broadband service to allow the company to start up. We have the premises, but we do not have the broadband service required.
Rural Ireland needs a guarantee that it will have fair access to the social and economic services which are essential if communities and businesses are to thrive. Whether it is the closure of post offices, the reduction of infrastructure funding or poor broadband coverage, rural Ireland is facing official policy which is making it tough to survive. I recently asked the Minister for Business, Enterprise and Innovation, Deputy Heather Humphreys, by way of parliamentary question the status of work to market counties Sligo, Leitrim, Donegal and Roscommon as job locations; the number of IDA Ireland site visits that had taken place in these counties in the past five years; and the other initiatives that had taken place to contribute to highlighting the north west as a destination for new businesses. In her reply the Minister stated, as regards site visits, "The IDA always does its best to highlight suitable sites in regional areas - including in counties Sligo, Leitrim, Donegal and Roscommon - to potential investors. It is sometimes the case, however, that IDA clients will have specific requirements that may preclude certain locations." The elephant in the room is that the Government refuses to acknowledge the importance of broadband or, more appropriately, the lack of it in many parts of rural Ireland. Companies will not move to invest in or support rural counties if they cannot access high quality broadband. Jobs growth in the regions is being stunted. People have lost patience, especially in isolated rural areas.
The World Bank found that a 10% increase in broadband penetration increased economic growth by 1.3% in the long term. The facts do not lie. Ireland ranks 42nd in the global rankings for the distribution of high speed broadband, while 40% of the population and 96% of the country geographically still lack commercial or fibre broadband coverage.
The Government's national rural broadband roll-out programme is a shambles. I do not blame the Minister for Communications, Climate Action and Environment, Deputy Denis Naughten, for this, as what has happened is unfortunate. Since the tendering process started in 2015, two bidders have left and there is now only one bidder remaining, namely, enet. The further delay in the roll-out of the national broadband plan will limit the number of jobs which can be created in the regions. With rapid advances in technology, Irish households should not have to settle for moderate Internet speeds which will be overtaken by technological progression in the next five years. The Minister for Business, Enterprise and Innovation, Deputy Heather Humphreys, must do better. She needs to make it crystal clear that IDA Ireland's continued overlooking of rural Ireland needs to stop and, above all else, the two Ministers must impress on the Taoiseach the absolute need to deliver the national broadband plan.
As a rural politician and a businessman, I am consistently disappointed, although not surprised, by the neglectful stance taken by the Government towards the provision of broadband for rural homes and businesses which are struggling to survive in an increasingly digital era. In order to reduce rural isolation and ensure businesses across the country will have a fair opportunity to compete, we need to deliver fibre broadband to every home. Black spots are costing jobs, threatening rural sustainability and creating an already large digital divide between urban and rural areas. Broadband provision can help to open up a global market for rural tourism and small local producers. The lack of broadband is directly harming business, as well as frustrating people in their day to day lives.
We have seen multiple reports, Bills and regulations, but none of them has advanced the process. The latest estimate for broadband to be rolled out is 2023. It beggars belief that ten years after it was announced that it would be done by 2012, some 540,000 homes are still not connected to fibre broadband in the ground. It seems extraordinary that the tender has not yet been put in place and it will take between three and five years to build the network. This week we are talking about the national planning framework, Ireland 2040, and capital infrastructure investment, but it will be 2040 before every home in Ireland has fibre broadband. When will the neglect of rural Ireland end? I call on the Government to allow rural communities to reach their full potential and prosper, retain young people, jobs and businesses and give people a real future in their home towns and counties. The project cannot be held up any longer.
It is almost 12 months since I first raised the issue of fibre broadband provision on behalf of the residents of Castlebaldwin, County Sligo and those living off the N4 route through the village. I have done so by way of parliamentary questions, emails and letters to the Minister and eir. For several months I have been trying to resolve the matter with eir, or at least I have been trying to ascertain the position on the issue. Progress has been nil and it is beyond frustrating. However, it is nothing compared to the frustration of locals in the village of Castlebaldwin and the surrounding area. That is just one example of a rural area without broadband. Several letters and emails to the CEO of eir, Mr Richard Moat, have not even been acknowledged, let alone responded to. I am extremely disappointed by the lack of response, competency and support offered by eir. For almost two years it has had a fibre to the cabinet, FTTC, unit in the village to facilitate the provision of broadband. However, the service remains unconnected. The fibre broadband connection passes Castlebaldwin on the N4 but does not branch off for those residents or businesses who need it. In recent months work has been done to rectify this and the points and boxes were upgraded but not connected. One person, in particular, is affected in that he has been offered employment with Apple, as an at-home adviser, on the proviso that he has a fixed-line Internet connection with a speed of at least 10 Mbps, which he does not have. I have written to eir, with a view to having the matter resolved on behalf of my constituents in the area who are, over a year later, still without broadband. It is difficult to understand. The box is in place, as is the fibre cable, yet the company will not connect it.
More than 500,000 homes and businesses in rural areas do not have broadband. They will not have commercial broadband and their service will not be enhanced by announcements on the roll-out of the tender process. In 2016 Fine Gael committed to providing high speed broadband for at least 85% of premises by 2018 and 100% of premises by 2020. It appears that the deadlines will be missed. Almost one third of the population live in areas where commercial broadband is not available. Elsewhere in Europe, between 15% and 20 % are in that position. In certain parts of rural Ireland there are broadband speeds 36 times lower than those in Dublin. That is not acceptable.
I accept that the Minister is in a difficult position. He is a rural Deputy and knows how people are suffering and job creation has been delayed by the lack of broadband provision. I wish him well in dealing with the company that remains in the process. I hope it will reach fruition and that we can deal with the issue as quickly as possible.