The industry has invested approximately €18 million in Kerry over the past 18 months. Eircom intends to pass 42,500 homes and businesses in Kerry by mid-2016. It has passed somewhere in the region of 24,000 homes with speeds of up to 100 Mbps. ESB Telecoms is investing in the addition of a new fibre ring and its existing network, which will be more than 200 km of fibre optic capacity. Vodafone has invested €6 million in Kerry in one and a half years and is saying that more than 90% of the population can avail of 4G services. Clearly, there is more to be done, but a lot is happening and it is important to note those developments and encourage industry to keep going and accelerate even more.
The broadband plan is very much a two-pronged approach. It involves encouraging and supporting industry and committing to a State-led intervention. The measures we have introduced to support industry include ComReg's multiband spectrum auction, which freed up the spectrum for the 4G roll-out; a ComReg decision on the next generation access arrangement, which allowed Eircom to launch its eFibre services and operators to offer services off that network; and the legislation introduced in March 2014 which will enable ESB to enter the telecommunications market. We are also taking a series of measures to address barriers to commercial deployment. Again, local authorities have a key role in this area. In the process of pulling together the national broadband plan, industry identified barriers to deployment that are affecting coverage. They included planning barriers, issues with road openings and access to motorways. We are working with industry and the various State agencies and local authorities to address those barriers and help speed up the deployment.
I will take a slight backwards look at where we have invested to date. The members of the committee will be aware of the metropolitan area networks. The investment started in 2004. A total of 88 fibre rings were built covering 94 town and cities in Ireland. They were developed to increase competition, reduce barriers to entry into the market and reduce costs. More than 60 operators use the metropolitan area networks today, with more than 1,650 connections to in excess of 600,000 individuals and business. Most of the operators operating in the Irish market use those fibre rings to improve the quality of service they are offer to customers. Enet has announced an investment in FTTB in Claremorris, Loughrea, Ardee and Kilkenny.
Deputies and Senators will be particularly interested in the national broadband scheme. It was launched in 2008. It was a very different world in 2008 where 1 to 2 Mb was considered basic broadband and reasonably adequate. At that stage, there were large tracts of Ireland which simply had no broadband, and the purpose of the scheme was to increase the coverage area and ensure everyone had at least basic broadband. What one might call basic broadband then and what one would call it today might be two different things, but people's expectations are far in excess of what one would have been doing in 2008. We could not have imagined where we would be today in such a short time. The scheme made basic broadband services available to 238,000 premises in 25 counties. It has ensured the infrastructure and services, albeit basic services, are in place. We have been told by 3 that the infrastructure will be used to upgrade to 4G services. I stress very strongly that there has been no discontinuation of services under the scheme. 3 has assured us it will continue providing services in all the areas, and not only that, it will upgrade the sites to 4G services within three years.
As I said, our ambition is for 100% of premises to be covered. This is infrastructure for the 21st century.
This is as important as water, electricity, rail and roads were in previous centuries. That has been acknowledged by the Government and we have an ambitious programme of investment in high speed broadband so that nobody is left behind. We did not leave anybody behind with electricity; we should not leave anybody behind with broadband.
Much has happened since 2012. The last two years saw an explosion in data demand which was driven by video. The addressable area for the State has decreased by 50% thanks to accelerated commercial investment, which is good news for the Exchequer. New state aid guidelines provide that where states invest they must ensure a step change. That does not mean moving from 2 Mbps to 5 Mbps; it means that consumers must experience a considerable change in the speed experience. The guidelines also require fibre to be as near as possible to the end user, although they also note that we must be technology neutral. We have also introduced legislation to allow the ESB to enter the market. It is worth noting that new and more effective technologies have come on stream in the last two years, such as the vectoring that Eircom is doing to allow it to provide 100 Mbps. Wireless operators have developed new wireless technologies that are capable of delivering high speeds and other technologies are available to provide better services more cheaply and more effectively.
We have developed a detailed implementation strategy for the national broadband plan. Under state guidelines, we are precluded from any area in which the commercial sector is investing, for very good reasons. This requires us to carry out a comprehensive mapping exercise to define what we mean by next generation broadband and what that means for industry; identify where industry is and where it is going; and measure the gap that the State needs to fill. That process is coming to a conclusion and we hope to be in a position to publish the maps and carry out a full public consultation towards the end of this year. That will be a key milestone in this project because it defines, once and for all, the area in which we need to invest.
In April 2014, the Government announced a more ambitious programme for intervention and, by way of illustrating the scope of ambition for the project, published a list of 1,100 villages across Ireland where we envisaged networks being built in the first instance. These are, however, just a fraction of what needs to be done and they are not the full picture. The list allowed people to see that the project was coming to small villages close to them. Eircom is covering towns with populations of 900 or more, whereas this project deals with settlements with populations of fewer than 900.
In the past several months we have met with more than 60 operators and stakeholders to discuss their investment plans, expectations and views on the way we are progressing with the plan. The maps will be published towards the end of this year and next year we intend to publish a detailed implementation strategy which will cover issues including ownership if it is a network build, and whether we own it or the bidder owns it; whether there is one bid or multiple bids; regulatory issues to be considered; and how it should be funded. Considerable work will be done over the next six months to bring us to a point where, building on the maps, we have a detailed implementation strategy, which we will publish for public consultation with a view to going to tender to provide the services by the end of next year.
The mapping exercise is complex but it is important to get it right. Where an operator claims to be providing next generation services we have to be satisfied that it is doing so. There are multiple operators in this markets, including a myriad of small fixed wireless providers operating across rural Ireland and a number of large providers operating nationally. We have to examine the market impacts of the proposal because this is a large scale intervention which will impact on the market, probably for generations to come. We need to consider regulatory, financial, legal, planning and state aid requirements. A key challenge is that the last 30% is the most difficult to address. That is why the commercial sector says it cannot go there. These are the premises outside the towns and villages, on the hillsides and up the by-roads. Ireland has a population of 33 people per square kilometre compared to 253 people per square kilometre in the UK, most of whom live in towns. This is a challenge we intend to address, however.
We must also ensure that whatever service we put in place is future proofed. By this we mean that 30 Mbps is a minimum benchmark. We do not want 30 Mbps to be the ceiling to which a prospective tenderer will aspire but the minimum benchmark so that this is a network build not only for this generation, but also for future generations. As demand rises, the services should scale up to meet it without having to make further significant investments. Our motto is do it once and do it right.
The milestones for 2015 are publishing the mapping towards the end of this year and the outcome of the mapping early next year; publishing the outcome of the public consultation process; publishing the detailed implementation strategy; applying for EU state aid clearance; launching the public procurement process; and ongoing stakeholder engagement. This plan is important because it will help to attract foreign direct investment; enable education, health and e-government services; support agribusinesses, SMEs, tourism, e-working, smart homes and businesses of the future; and put Ireland to the forefront in terms of our connectivity.