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Seanad Éireann debate -
Wednesday, 7 Feb 2007

Vol. 185 No. 21

Broadcasting (Amendment) Bill 2006: Committee Stage.

Section 1 agreed to.

Amendments Nos. 1 to 3, inclusive, 15, 47 and 49 are related and will be discussed together.

Government amendment No. 1:
In page 4, lines 17 and 18, to delete all words from and including ", where" in line 17 down to and including "service," in line 18.

Amendments Nos. 1 to 3, inclusive, to section 2 are technical amendments that will ensure clarity as to what material can be carried on multiplexes. These amendments will ensure that some radio services will be carried on television multiplexes, although television multiplexes will be primarily for television. Similarly, some television or audio-visual services can be carried on radio multiplexes, allowing a degree of overall flexibility to the Broadcasting Commission of Ireland and the multiplex contractor applicants. While this flexibility could be construed from the Bill in its published form, the amendments will further define the intended use of each multiplex. Amendment No. 15 to section 3, amendment No. 47 to section 11 and amendment No. 49 to section 13 are follow-on amendments clarifying the fact that certain provisions in those sections relate only to television multiplexes. These amendments need to be introduced because of the amendments to section 2.

Is there any control over the number of stations broadcasting on multiplex? I am not a technical person but believe that, if there are much more than five, there is considerable interference. While the amendments are reasonable, will multiplex channels become overloaded?

Will the Minister clarify whether there will continue to be six multiplexes, some of which will be used for radio signals, instead of there being additional channels for radio?

Since the Minister's presentation and speech on Second Stage, many of us were approached by digital radio mondiale, DRM, providers and yesterday attended a presentation in Buswells Hotel. It was very impressive in terms of improving signals and extending their range across Europe. Data I have received from RTE suggest it will not, however, represent an ideal alternative. Does the Minister have a view on what will be the more effective system? Will DRM be considered? From what I have seen it seems very effective.

To answer Senator Henry's query on the danger of overload, such matters will be controlled by the BCI. Obviously there are limits to the amount of spectrum that can be used. The technology allows four channels but it could be eight or 12 in the future, depending on developments in digitisation. We operate on the basis of four channels at the moment to ensure there is not the overspill about which the Senator spoke.

Senator Kenneally asked for clarification on the use of multiplexes for radio signals. The Bill is designed to allow radio or television but we were advised there could be some doubt over the wording so we have clarified the point that multiplex channels can be used for either.

We are learning about digital radio mondiale, digital audio broadcasting and so on. The specifications for DRM are technical. RTE is piloting a DAB scheme. It is believed that DAB would have greater quality and could provide more domestic services. DRM would deal mainly with lower quality stations from further afield. Nothing has been finalised, but the systems cannot be compared in terms of their relative spectral efficiencies because they have been designed for different parts of the radio spectrum. The spectrum allocation has been agreed internationally.

There will probably be more experimentation, pilot schemes and so on, but I am unsure as to the Senator's point on the effectiveness or efficiency of DRM as opposed to DAB. For domestic purposes, DAB is viewed as the appropriate system. I do not doubt that we will try to standardise specifications across Europe and that DRM will be considered in that context.

Yesterday, I attended a presentation on DRM. It appeared to be an effective signal as it was shown projecting clearly from Portugal to Cyprus. With DAB, a signal can fail if one passes underneath a bridge. I am not an expert and this is new technology to me, but I would not like RTE to have an initial bias in favour of DAB without having considered the other option if it is more effective. Ex-RTE employees are promoting DRM and have tried explaining it to RTE.

Will small stations be able to transmit from the multiplexes or will they need to send their signals to hubs from which they will be selected? What will be the quality?

I am seeking guidance. While this is a technical matter and, like the Minister and others, I am not a technology expert, I have a considerable interest in this area. Will we address the technology issue on this grouping of amendments? Other amendments deal with technology specifically. I do not want to stifle debate.

Am I to understand the Minister that these amendments will include sound broadcasting at multiplexes, which everyone would welcome? I welcome that the Minister responded rapidly to the concerns expressed on all sides of the House on Second Stage about sound broadcasting being the poor relation, whether the legislation would give it equality and whether the multiplexes would allow for it. Subscribers to cable companies can get visual and audio channels and I assume that the amendments relate to that matter.

The amendments relate to a mixture of radio and television. The Bill is technical, but we should not be too afraid of technology. It is not the case that there is a great deal of physical hardware, which we imagine when we discuss muxes. A multiplex is part of a spectrum, which is available to everyone. It is not physical. Often, people who listen to us get the impression that they would be able to see or buy these objects. Senator Mooney is correct in that we will discuss technical aspects later, as these amendments relate to the inclusion of broadcasting.

Regarding DAB and DRM, both have pluses and minuses, but DAB is the preferred option. RTE is experimenting in that regard because DAB is more suited to the sending of signals to the domestic market. I am unsure concerning the question of difficulties, but problems with bridges or tunnels may prompt RTE to look elsewhere. From our perspective, it is important that the legislation should not prescribe one way or another. RTE should be free to get the best available system.

DAB makes better allowances for small and regional stations than DRM. As to whether smaller stations will be able to transmit from multiplexes, the muxes will be open for people to bid onto multiplexes. I imagine that different radio and television groups will put packages together, seek spectrum space from the BCI and be adjudged. It is good to involve the BCI because it will have an overall view of gaps in what is available and will be able to make judgments on the types of programmes on the system.

Amendment agreed to.
Government amendment No. 2:
In page 4, between lines 21 and 22, to insert the following:
"‘sound broadcasting multiplex' means a multiplex in which the programme material is predominantly sound;".
Amendment agreed to.
Government amendment No. 3:
In page 4, between lines 23 and 24, to insert the following:
"‘television multiplex' means a multiplex in which the programme material is predominantly television;".
Amendment agreed to.
Section 2, as amended, agreed to.

Amendments Nos. 4, 5, 7, 10, 12, 14, 16, 19 to 25, inclusive, 28 to 31, inclusive, 38, 39, 42 to 45, inclusive, 48, 51, 52 and 53 are cognate. Amendments Nos. 6, 8, 9, 11, 13, 17, 18, 40, 41, 50 and 54 are related. Amendment No. 51 is an alternative to No. 50. Therefore, amendments Nos. 4 to 14, inclusive, 16 to 25, inclusive, 28 to 31, inclusive, 38 to 45, inclusive, 48 and 50 to 54, inclusive, will be taken together by agreement.

I move amendment No. 4:

In page 4, line 30, after "television" to insert "and digital radio mondiale".

The Government amendments are welcome but I would prefer if the Minister accepted our amendments because they are more specific. It is not enough to insert "a sound broadcasting service", we must specify what we want.

This service will not just be for people in Britain, where there are many Irish people and people interested in Ireland and the programmes broadcast on RTE. I may have criticised RTE radio on Second Stage but it is obvious that I listen to it. Its programmes are of value, my criticisms are to get back programmes I wanted but that have been taken away from me or to suggest they should be broadcast at more suitable times. There are plenty of people on mainland Europe, such as my son who lives in France, who would listen. If we included "digital radio mondiale", they would be in a position to receive sound radio. The programmes are worth listening to and many English speakers in continental Europe, such as those who have retired to Spain, or others who may have sight problems and rely on radio for information, enjoy RTE radio as a good source of information.

I complain sometimes about the music programmes or the lateness of the arts programmes but we should spread our wings further and consider this amendment, which is more specific than "a sound broadcasting service", which would leave a great deal to the broadcaster to decide.

Taking up the Minister's theme as outlined in the debate on the previous amendments, I would not support specifics when it comes to technology. In general, Bills of a technical nature tend to deal with generalities rather than specifics because technology changes so quickly — only 25 years ago it was not possible to record a programme for future viewing. Digital broadcasting is a new phenomenon. Customers are now urged to ensure they have high definition as an option when buying a television even though high definition programmes are yet to be broadcast on a regular basis. The Minister was right earlier that we should tread cautiously in fixing a particular type of technology in this area.

I am not a technical expert but to grapple with the debate that has arisen as a result of this Bill, I tried to find out as much as possible. I come from a broadcasting background so I have an ongoing interest in this. Digital audio broadcasting and digital radio mondiale are not rival technologies. DAB is primarily used on a national basis while DRM is used for international purposes. RTE has a long-wave transmitter on Summerhill, in the Minister's constituency, which is approaching the end of its lifespan. It is in the process of upgrading the transmitter so it will have a dual capacity whereby it will continue to provide a long-wave service which Irish people abroad can pick up, although on the Atlantic coast in Portugal and such areas medium-wave is available. More than two thirds of Britain can receive the long-wave signal. The dual capacity element of the new transmitter is DRM, not DAB, primarily because it is best suited for long-range transmission.

The European Broadcasting Union's digital strategy group published a report entitled "Public Service Media for the Digital Age" on 26 June 2006. It stated that by the end of 2006, more than 50 countries would launch DAB broadcasts on a permanent or test basis. There are now more than 475 million people who are potentially covered by DAB signals and more than 800 radio stations, most of them European, are broadcasting on DAB. In the receiver market, the report notes, there are more than 200 receivers available as prices decline and sales grow. Digital radio mondiale, DRM, is intended as a digital alternative to replace AM analogue radio channels in the short, medium or long wave bands. That is why RTE purchased a dual capacity transmitter for Summerhill, it will eventually replace the long-wave signal.

The report goes on to state that it may also be a viable alternative to DAB for radio stations covering large areas or complex topographies. This is significant for Ireland, which has mountainous regions. There are still parts of the country, such as south-west Cork and Donegal, where it was sometimes difficult to pick up the RTE FM signal until repeater stations were established.

The report continues that the first multi-standard receivers have entered the market in the last 12 months, combining DRM with AM, FM and DAB, which is in keeping with RTE's initiative in having a dual capacity transmitter. DRM also contains a modest data capacity for additional text services. Broadcasters such as the BBC and Deutsche Welle in Germany are using or testing DRM for overseas broadcasting. RTL in Germany has begun broadcasting on DRM for its European market.

An additional system, DRM 120, is planned for the VHF bands as a digital replacement for FM radio channels, which addresses Senator Henry's comments about over the bridge and under the bridge. It will deal with the bit level available on the spectrum that can affect the quality of the FM signal. This system may be valuable in parts of the world where there is still space on the VHF/FM bands, although there is not much surplus space available in Ireland and we have agreed internationally to go on to an VHF3 band, which is part of the new technology. The Minister and his officials are the experts in terms of drafting and executing the Bill. I am merely attempting to outline the reasons I would not necessarily support the arguments made by those who brought these amendments.

Predicting the future of technology is a hazardous undertaking, so I agree with the Minister that legislation should not be prescriptive with regard to the technical ways and means of achieving the objective of a superb radio service with state-of-the-art technology for domestic audiences and the Irish abroad. Projecting the image of Ireland to an international radio audience is a separate issue. The current dual approach of testing DRM while continuing to support DAB is the best way forward, although the Minister is right to avoid setting out a specific technological direction in this Bill.

I thank the Minister for responding to Senators who pointed out during the Second Stage debate that while the Bill gives RTE a remit to provide television services to the Irish abroad, it does not make specific provision for radio broadcasts. Is such a provision is necessary, however, given that RTE already broadcasts on long wave? I recall listening to Gaelic games while on holiday in France.

Waterford beating Wexford, for example.

Does the Senator also mean to refer to football? It was marvellous to be able to receive a radio signal, although I accept that digital technology will allow for a much improved signal. I hope the Minister will clarify whether the need exists for provisions on radio broadcasting.

When referring to overseas services from RTE, we probably think of emigrants in the UK, to which a signal can be easily broadcast. How far will modern technology allow RTE to broadcast a signal? I presume it will not travel to far flung places such as the United States or Australia. I think, however, everybody will welcome the progress we are making in terms of this Bill.

I support the spirit of the amendments proposed by Senator Henry. I listened carefully to the arguments made by Senator Mooney and, while I am not as familiar with the technology as I would wish, I hope the Minister's response to the amendments will ensure the Bill is flexible enough to manage future developments.

I thank Senators for the contribution they made in terms of bringing these amendments. I am aware from the debate on Second Stage that we are all in agreement on the principle of what we are trying to achieve and acknowledge that the amendments were proposed in a good faith attempt to reach as many of the Irish abroad as possible. We decided to be explicit in including radio services in the Bill because, while we did not need to do so, several Senators cogently argued on Second Stage that it would be a good signal — pardon the pun — to send to Irish communities abroad. We concur with that principle and have therefore introduced a number of amendments to achieve our shared goals.

The amendments tabled by Senator Henry and Senator Norris, however, are unacceptable for a number of reasons, primarily the issues to which Senator Mooney referred. I am not casting any aspersions on the Senators for proposing their amendments because I acknowledge their interest lies in maximising RTE's reach. However, their proposals would restrict the current and future technology options available to us. We made that mistake in 2001 when we tried to be specific in primary legislation as to how we should develop digital terrestrial television, with the result that we tied people's hands and could not attract sufficient commercial interest to develop a service. We were following a model which existed in Europe at the time but it did not work for us. The purpose of the primary legislation is addressing principles rather than technical details. It is increasingly difficult to achieve the correct balance with legislation in terms of leaving enough flexibility to Ministers or officials to introduce change by means of regulations but we need to allow for the maximum level of flexibility when we deal with technological matters.

The Government's amendments clearly set out the principle that the RTE authority must provide a radio service to Irish communities overseas as well as account for the funds spent on providing such a service. These amendments will allow the authority the flexibility to use the best available technologies to achieve that mandate. Obviously, price and other issues will have to be taken into account.

Amendments Nos. 6, 7, 9, 11 and 13 insert the term "sound broadcasting service" into section 3(1) of the principal Bill. That is the generally used term to describe a radio service in broadcasting legislation. The amendments are designed to amend the core remit of the RTE authority, which was set out in the Broadcasting Authority Act 1960, to ensure sound broadcasting services are provided to the Irish abroad. Amendment No. 50 replaces the old section 14 of the principal Bill with a new section 14 and includes a restatement of section 8(8)(d) of the Broadcasting Act 2001 to correct a minor grammatical error in sections 14(a) and (b). The amendment also inserts the term “sound broadcasting service” into section 14, which has the effect of amending section 28(10) of the Broadcasting Act 2001 to require the RTE authority to report to the Minister for Communications, Marine and Natural Resources on the use it has made of television licence fee funding in the provision of the proposed radio services to Irish communities abroad.

Amendment No. 54 inserts the term "sound broadcasting service" into section 15 of the Bill, which has the effect of requiring the RTE authority, where directed by the Minister, to maintain special accounts on the use of the television licence fee funding. We are providing for it to broadcast to the Irish overseas and be accountable for moneys so expended.

I realise that these amendments relate to many different sections. Taking the proposed amendments into account, section 3(1)(b) requires RTE to provide a broadcasting service to Irish communities outside the island of Ireland in so far as the RTE authority considers it reasonably practicable. That flexible wording in section 3 accords with the thinking and recommendations of the report of the task force on policy regarding emigrants that the development of a culturally sensitive media service for the Irish abroad needed to be addressed. The Bill entrusts RTE with considering the most appropriate technological and financial means of addressing the needs of such Irish communities abroad.

Senator Mooney made a number of accurate points. The long wave 252 transmitter in Summerhill, County Meath, is being upgraded. The DAB and DRM technologies should be seen more as being complementary rather than in competition with each other. Last year's world radio conference agreed that there should be three to four DAB multiplexers on VHF, which is the same as in every other country. We are now bound by an international spectrum agreement. Transmitting radio signals to the US, Australia, etc. cannot really be achieved terrestrially. It must be achieved by Internet or satellite, which is how RTE tries to do it. The changes in the Bill for the first time will allow RTE to use public moneys to broadcast abroad by radio. It is being given this power in line with what was requested by Senators on Second Stage.

I am grateful to the Minister for his clarification. What would be the timeline for implementation now that he has outlined the interpretation of the sections relating to RTE's obligation to provide a radio and television service abroad? As Senator Kenneally has indicated, this service would be mainly directed at the audience in Britain, our nearest neighbour. While we all welcome that this will be in legislation, there is a difference between what is in legislation and what will happen on the ground. What role will the Minister have in the timeline for RTE to come back to the BCI to outline its proposals? Will it only be required to provide such accountability annually?

I am not sure what the timeline will be. However, the obligation will arise from the enactment of the Bill. I have already spoken to Cathal Goan in RTE. The station envisages some difficulties and has raised a number of points. It is enthusiastic about trying to achieve this outreach quickly. Having a specific legislative base in this regard is important for it. I would not be unfair in stating that he would have accepted it as a strong signal of the wishes of Government and the Houses of the Oireachtas. I do not anticipate any undue delay. The timescale we are considering would be in the region of 12 to 18 months to get everything right technically and otherwise. RTE management views this as a positive development and I am sure it will respond very quickly.

I wish to return to the issue of television. Many Irish people who emigrated to the UK in the 1950s and 1960s do not have access to computer television programming or satellites at present. In that context they could be regarded as being media poor. How can we ensure they have access to Irish television in the UK?

I have quite a few relatives in the UK, all of whom managed to get Tara when it was on the go. They all still manage to get RTE radio broadcasts. My aunt in Leamington Spa rang me just before Christmas to thank me for the Bill, about which she had just heard. They are not having too much difficulty at the moment. The Bill will give it a legislative basis and ensure money can be legally spent on such items. Before this we had no legislative basis for using licence fee money in this way. The Bill entrusts RTE with considering the most appropriate technological and financial means to address the issue and I am sure it will be able to do so. Even as matters stand, RTE tries to reach out with its radio broadcasting through the use of long wave, Internet and satellite. It has been active in the area and now that it is entitled to spend licence fee money on it, it will consider the technological means and begin as quickly as possible. I do not want to stipulate how as I would not know technically anyway. I would not want to restrict it in how it might do that.

The Minister has given a very clear explanation why his amendment is better than that of Senator Norris and me. I am especially taken by what Senator Mooney has said because he has decades of experience in broadcasting and was one of the presenters of "Both Sides Now".

I thank the Senator.

I thought the Senator was going to say hundreds of years' experience.

I listened to his programme for many years even though, thank goodness, I did not have much to do with emigration. We should not be too modest or parochial about who will listen to and look at these programmes. RTE should lift its sights rather than remembering the people in Dagenham, many of whom are dead. RTE is now broadcasting to a totally different generation of Irish people. When I was in the south of Portugal recently, where my friends were able to get RTE on the radio, I was informed that most of the private jets at the local airport belonged to Irish people.

That is the Celtic tiger.

RTE needs to look up. This radio station will broadcast not just to the Irish communities in the United Kingdom, or to elderly people. It should be regarded as showing the Irish face. English is a second language for many people. Why not aim at them?

I accept the Minister's arguments and will withdraw the amendment but I hope this station will not be regarded as addressing only a few Irish communities abroad, although they are important. I hope that elderly people who do not have access to the Internet will get good enough equipment to receive the television or radio signals by whatever modern method we send them. Never let it be said I stood in the way of improved technology but it is changing so much that the Government may have to consider installing new technology in community centres in England, which it supports. It would be very disappointing if a community with which we are particularly concerned could not receive these signals.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
Amendment No. 5 not moved.
Government amendment No. 6:
In page 4, line 38, to delete "which" and substitute "and a sound broadcasting service, which services".
Amendment agreed to.
Government amendment No. 7:
In page 4, line 42, to delete "that purpose" and substitute "those purposes".
Amendment agreed to.
Amendment No. 8 not moved.
Government amendment No. 9:
In page 4, line 43, after "service" to insert "and the sound broadcasting service".
Amendment agreed to.
Amendment No. 10 not moved.
Government amendment No. 11:
In page 5, line 3, after "service" to insert "and the sound broadcasting service".
Amendment agreed to.
Amendment No. 12 not moved.
Government amendment No. 13:
In page 5, line 6, after "broadcasting" to insert "and sound broadcasting".
Amendment agreed to.
Amendment No. 14 not moved.
Government amendment No. 15:
In page 5, subsection (2)(a), line 21, after “national” to insert “television”.
Amendments Nos. 16 to 25, inclusive, not moved.
Question proposed: "That section 3, as amended, stand part of the Bill."

I thank Senator Henry for her kind remarks. It is a pleasure to be able to present such programmes for the Irish abroad. Senator Henry's points about how RTE presents the image of Ireland abroad are extremely significant. Now that it is being given the legal vehicle to present Ireland abroad, through radio programmes, it has an added responsibility because it is no longer broadcasting only to a domestic audience. As a child I tuned into the overseas services of a myriad radio stations from Radio Monaco to Radio Moscow, to the extent that people thought I was becoming a Communist.

The BBC overseas service is a benchmark radio service. While it does not overtly present the British Government's line because it has a reputation for objectivity in its news reporting, it presents the image of the United Kingdom internationally. I hope that the Minister, because of his overarching role in policy-making, will convey to RTE that it is not only a matter of technology or of the fact that it has a remit to transmit programmes abroad but that it is a challenge. I am pleased to hear the Minister say that RTE has responded enthusiastically to this new mandate. I hope it will rise to the challenge as it has done in the past, by presenting innovative and interesting programmes not just for the Irish abroad but for the international radio audience it will gain.

Will the Minister explain why it was not necessary to mention 2FM and Lyric FM in the Bill?

The point is well made and RTE should bear it in mind not only because it is going to broadcast specifically to Irish or other communities abroad. While criticism is good, and it is important in a democracy that journalists are vigilant, to constantly harp on the negative conveys an unbalanced view of Ireland today. I take the point that RTE should be conscious of the image it conveys.

It may not be popular to make comparisons with our friends across the water but the BBC has high broadcasting standards. RTE has matched those, probably because it competes with the BBC. We should acknowledge that, although it may not be popular.

It is true.

RTE has increasingly taken on that national responsibility in regard to internal issues, not necessarily political ones. It is increasingly assuming responsibility in certain areas and there are times when it could play a leadership role on particular issues. There is no need for it to be party political, Government-oriented, etc., in this regard. As an example, I wish to cite some of the special reports the station has produced in respect of road safety. These reports have highlighted an important issue. Another issue about which everyone is talking and which will become even more important and central to politics is that of climate change and the need to educate people in that regard. There are matters of this nature in respect of which RTE can play a role, without being obliged to stray into the area of party politics.

I take Senator Henry's related point regarding broadcasting to the Irish community abroad. In that context, others will be watching when this service commences and this will be a wonderful opportunity to highlight what is happening in today's modern and vibrant Ireland to people other than those whose roots are here and who are aware of the nature of our culture. The new service will serve a useful purpose in this regard.

Senator Henry also inquired about 2FM and Lyric FM. I stand open to correction by my officials but I understand that because they are RTE stations, they are covered by the reference to RTE and do not need to be specifically mentioned. If I am wrong, however, I will correct the position later.

Question put and agreed to.

Amendments Nos. 26 and 36 are related and may be taken together by agreement. Is that agreed? Agreed.

I move amendment No. 26:

In page 6, subsection (1), line 17, after "1960" to insert the following:

"and to ensure as far as practicable that Irish broadcasting services are readily accessible on the electronic programme guide".

Section 4 is central to the Bill in that it sets out the additional functions of the commission. The issue to which I wish to refer is that involving multiplexes. One of the matters that has arisen in discussions on the Bill is that relating to the electronic programming guide, EPG. Amendment No. 26 is designed to ensure that an additional function of the commission would be to ensure "that Irish broadcasting services are readily accessible on the electronic programming guide". The Minister and those who are members of the Joint Committee on Communications, Marine and Natural Resources will be aware that those involved with Channel 6 have raised this issue because the station has been assigned a position that is extremely low down on the electronic programming guide.

This is an important matter. I do not have a satellite or multichannel system in my house. I have little enough time available to me to spend it watching television. I am aware, however, of how the system relating to satellite channels works. Although the channel menu is extremely well set out and provides people with an idea of what is on and what will follow, the order in which the many channels appear on this menu is very important. Ireland is a small country and it is important our national stations should appear high up on the menu to facilitate Irish viewers. I accept an agreement is in existence between Sky and RTE to the effect that RTE 1, TV3, etc., are easily seen and accessible on the menu. However, those at Channel 6 are extremely agitated by the fact that the station is effectively invisible on the electronic programming guide that is available at present. I tabled this amendment to add to the list of responsibilities and duties of the BCI, when digital is rolled out and when the Irish DTT system is in place, that it should ensure Irish stations are easily accessible and seen on the electronic programming guide.

It is important for members of the community to have instant access to their preferred sources of information. It is also important that Irish channels appear high up on the electronic programming guide. After all, it is difficult enough to compete with the increasing number of channels that are becoming available. The control of the EPG is an important issue. That is why the commission should have a particular responsibility in this regard.

The amendment was framed in a way designed to keep matters straightforward and simple. I hope the Minister will note the use of the phrase "to ensure as far as practicable that Irish broadcasting services are readily accessible on the electronic programme guide". I hope, therefore, that it will be possible for him to accept the amendment.

I support amendment No. 26. I wish to declare an interest in that I have a small investment in Channel 6 and I know how frustrated those in charge of the station are regarding the fact that it was assigned channel 223 on the electronic programming guide on Monday last. If we are governed by the marketplace and by what customers want, I presume those responsible for making a decision in this regard will come to the conclusion that Irish audiences will want Irish stations to be placed near the top of the EPG in order that they will not be required to travel as far as channel 223. I support Senator O'Meara's amendment because it would be of value that customers should be able to readily access that which they seek.

I also support the amendment. I had not identified the necessity in this regard because I had taken it for granted Irish channels would appear near the top of the guide.

I agree this is an extremely important matter. That is why it is being dealt with in the Bill and in amendment No. 36. I am sure RTE, as a public service, will show a clip on this evening's "Oireachtas Report" of somebody saying that Channel 6 can be found on channel 223 of the electronic programming guide. I was not aware of that. I sought out Channel 6 but I became fed up trawling through the various other channels.

Senator O'Meara's amendment is not needed because of the specifics of the legislation. The difficulty regarding the existing satellite system is that it falls outside of Irish regulation and, as such, we have no control over it. The current position obtains as a result of grace and favour on the part of Sky. We should acknowledge what Sky has done in this regard and its actions made commercial sense. Cable and DTT will come under Irish regulation and, therefore, this Bill, combined with the 2001 Act, will mean the EPGs relating to the cable and DTT networks will give priority to Irish stations. There will be no need to use terms such as "as far as is practicable" because it will be specifically stated.

Amendment No. 36 to section 9 involves a restating of paragraphs (c) and (d). While the restatements are not substantial in nature and while the fundamental meanings are not being changed, the word “continued” is used in the amendment. This is the case in order that the BCI can ensure multiplex providers will provide ongoing content and do not reduce it. The amendment also improves the drafting of paragraph (c). An operator that maintains a multiplex on a particular basis must maintain it at the initial level and cannot reduce its content.

Amendment No. 36 will change the provisions in paragraph (d) and stipulate that the BCI must consider issues around multiplex reception and compatibility across multiplexes. It is vital that all the television multiplexes in an area, including the RTE multiplex, can be seen on the one set-top box. The Broadcasting Commission of Ireland, BCI, must seek to ensure that applicants take that into consideration in their applications.

It is also important that viewers can keep themselves informed of services across all the multiplexes in an organised and coherent way. Viewers do that through a menu or the electronic programme guide, EPG. These can be produced locally and automatically in the set-top box or created and transmitted to viewers in a controlled fashion over an overriding EPG. The provisions in paragraph (d) will now ensure both types of EPG must be taken into consideration by multiplex applicants and by the BCI when it is judging the application submitted.

Section 16 of the Broadcasting Act 2001 contains further conditions to ensure the priority of Irish broadcasting services on EPGs. This amendment Bill also proposes, in section 13, to apply section 16 of the 2001 Act to the DTT framework proposed. We are pulling three different Acts into place.

With regard to amendment No. 26 on the positioning of Irish broadcasting services and the electronic programme guides, I ask Senators to examine section 13 of the Bill. It provides that under section 16 of the 2001 Act relating to the electronic programming guides for existing broadcasting services, that will now apply to DTT services. That is not clear from the amendment Bill because one must refer to two other Bills. The existing provisions under section 16(5) of the 2001 Act remain, that is, that any EPG produced under this section may be easily used by members of the public to access the programme schedules of Irish broadcasting services. We do not even use the phrase "as far as practicable". It is important that it happens. It is already stipulated in legislation and we are just bringing it forward. That ensures that Irish broadcasting services will be in prominent positions. Since that provision already exists, Senator O'Meara's amendment is not necessary. The principle is an important one and it was important to include it in the Bill.

I thank the Minister for his amendment and for setting out the requirement in the Act. I accept the Minister's point that the legislation covers this but I note section 13, which amends the Act of 2001, states that the commission may give a direction to the multiplex contractor. It ends with the following statement: "... shall comply with such a direction". I take the Minister's word that it will work——

I thank the Senator.

——and on that basis I will withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Amendment No. 27 is a Government amendment. Amendments Nos. 33 to 35, inclusive, are related. Amendments Nos. 27 and 33 to 35, inclusive, may be taken together by agreement. Is that agreed? Agreed.

Government amendment No. 27:
In page 6, between lines 25 and 26, to insert the following subsection:
"(4) It shall be a duty of the Commission to endeavour to arrange, as a matter of priority, for the establishment, maintenance and operation of three national television multiplexes, which multiplexes, in so far as it is reasonably practicable, shall be capable of being transmitted by digital terrestrial means to the whole community in the State.".

Amendment No. 27 to section 4 and amendments Nos. 33 to 35, inclusive, to section 8 should be considered together. The aim of the amendments is to emphasise the importance of the BCI moving quickly to contract with applicants for national television multiplexes. The BCI will be obliged to consider DTT as a priority.

A key issue is ensuring a degree of coherence in timing around the RTE roll-out of its DTT multiplex, and the separate DTT multiplex is to be licensed by the BCI. While BCI may in due course consider regional or local television multiplexes, it is important that these first multiplexes give significant national coverage, taking into consideration the commercial realities.

The proposed Government amendments address the issues raised by Senators O'Meara, Ryan, McDowell, Tuffy and McCarthy in their amendment No. 35. I accept fully the spirit of the amendment but I propose amendments Nos. 27, 33 and 34 to achieve the same objective in a manner that is in keeping with the structure of the Bill. For that reason I cannot accept amendment No. 35. It is another case of where we are all trying to achieve the same objective and I believe we can do so.

The Minister's amendment appears to meet our concerns. I agree with the Minister that we are all singing from the same hymn sheet. It is important that the BCI moves quickly to arrange for the establishment of the multiplexes.

Will the Minister clarify one point? His amendment No. 27 states that it will be the duty of the commission to arrange for the establishment etc. of three national multiplexes. Does the Minster see that happening simultaneously or one after the other? That is an important point. My understanding is that there is no reason the BCI could not roll out two simultaneously, which might meet some of our concerns regarding a point we have not yet discussed, namely, free-to-air access, especially of British channels currently available free to air on the east coast. That is in the context of the availability of those channels which will no longer be available when the analogue system ends. Will the Minister clarify that point? I accept that the amendment meets our concerns.

On the free-to-air British channels that are easily received in most areas of the country, will one of these multiplexes take care of them? I do not suppose the Minister is in a position to force them to do so but I would have thought that was important. Will there be any competition among the various groups that will set up these multiplexes so that we will know what each is offering?

I scarcely dare mention this but is there any problem about political agreement on this issue? I am aware it is all part of the Good Friday Agreement under which we will all have access to each other's television and radio stations and so on but in the past, before the Good Friday Agreement, when I brought up accessibility of the RTE stations in areas of Northern Ireland where there was no overspill, I was told there was a problem getting agreement for rebroadcasting in such areas. I presume it can be taken there is political agreement on all this.

I had intended waiting until the debate on the section to raise Senator Henry's important point. In light of what is included as part of these amendments, section 4(4)(b) states: “any television broadcasting service in Northern Ireland that is notified to the Commission by the Minister, being a service that is receivable throughout the whole of Northern Ireland and is provided by terrestrial means”. All of us who have been following this issue are aware that there is some resistance on the British side to allowing access to RTE television within Northern Ireland. I understand, and perhaps the Minister will confirm this, that under the terms of the Good Friday Agreement it was agreed by both sides that TG4 should be accessible, especially in parts of Belfast where the signal is not readily available. It is interesting that as it was seen as an Irish language channel and had a cultural dimension, there was no difficulty in it being broadcast there. Is it possible in the Minister’s discussions with his British counterpart that consideration might be given to amending the BBC’s charter to legally permit the transmission of BBC Northern Ireland across the island of Ireland? A reciprocal arrangement could be then introduced whereby RTE television would also be likewise transmitted.

I did not realise Senator Mooney's suggestion could be a potential solution to the problem. A cousin of mine who lives in Newcastle, County Down, regularly contacts me to express her frustration that although the town is close to the Border, she cannot receive RTE. It may be due to the physical proximity of the Mourne Mountains or the Cooley Mountains. The various solutions proposed by Senators Mooney and Henry deserve attention. There must be a strong body of people in Northern Ireland who would like to participate in an all-Ireland television station.

Whether the establishment of the national multiplexes will happen simultaneously or sequentially, is a matter for the BCI. My preferred option is for the BCI to run the competition for all three national multiplexes simultaneously, as it would bring coherence to the process. Hopefully, there will be more than three consortia competing in the process. However, I believe that even before that stage is reached, there may be much competition among the various consortia to get the best channel combinations for their proposed multiplexes.

The Good Friday Agreement referred specifically to TG4. The station is available in Northern Ireland and its transmitter on the Divis Mountain was switched on some time ago. RTE 1 and RTE 2 are available in Border areas by overspill only, as are UTV and BBC. It is not a matter of political will or agreement in making these channels available on either side of the Irish Sea or North and South. Serious questions concerning copyright have given rise to difficulties. If RTE were to transmit to the UK, obviously its copyright fees would increase substantially. There have been discussions between the Taoiseach and the Minister for Foreign Affairs with their UK counterparts in working out an arrangement in this regard.

The introduction of DTT will assist transmission of the various channels. If a consortia can convince the BBC to be broadcast on its multiplex, everyone in Ireland will be guaranteed to receive it. Likewise for RTE in Northern Ireland. There is a commercial interest in this. The switch-off of analogue transmission will end the overspill of BBC, HTV and UTV into this jurisdiction. There is, however, an audience for these channels, of which those consortia setting up multiplexes will be only be too conscious. In turn, they will want their multiplexes to carry these channels.

I do not believe it has reached the level of amending the BBC's charter. The copyright aspect is the more difficult one.

There is much competition between satellite, terrestrial and cable broadcast providers. On Second Stage, all Members welcomed the necessity to switch from analogue transmission to DTT. However, commercial concerns exist about the provision of the DTT platform and to what degree it could impact on the other commercial operators in this field if State funding were provided. Will the Minister outline his thoughts on this matter?

I am grateful to the Minister for clarifying the situation. Will the provision of a multiplex broadcasting to the UK have to address copyright issues? It is accepted there will be no re-broadcast of current RTE television services because of these rights issues. American soap operas, movies, sporting events broadcast on RTE have attached rights to them. It will be a challenge as to the mix of programmes that will be broadcast on the multiplex for the UK.

On Second Stage, I explained one of the main reasons Tara Television failed was because it mainly used archive material from the 1970s and 1980s and did not reflect Irish current affairs. All involved in this area will know that the Irish community in the UK is anxious to get contemporary news and current affairs programmers from RTE because they want to feel the sense of belonging to the nation. I agree commercial interests will dictate the number of channels. The popularity of British channels in Ireland, it has been suggested, has given rise to a form of blackmail. If one wants British channels one has to sign up to providers such as Sky, NTL and Chorus.

Will the Minister explain the references to Northern Ireland, the BCI and its obligations regarding the provision of services? Is there some way to address this deficit? While BBC television is generally available across two-thirds of the country, RTE television is not available in large parts of Northern Ireland. It is not simply a matter of saying it is available to anybody who wants it. Ensuring such availability may require additional expenditure and the erection of a 50 ft. aerial. My concern is that people in the North, particularly members of the Unionist community, are getting an unbalanced view of this part of the island.

I am passionately committed to the view that RTE should be available across the island, including those large parts of the North where it is not currently available. The Minister knows more about this than I do because he deals with officials at senior level. My suggestion of a charter amendment is one possible way forward. We are essentially at one on this; I know the Minister would also like to see this happen. All we can do is urge him to continue to make the appropriate representations.

We are all largely ad idem on this issue. In regard to maximising the reach of RTE television, it would be good if there were co-operation in both directions, east-west and North-South, in terms of common channels and so on. This Bill facilitates such developments by providing a framework under which they are attainable not merely for two thirds of the Republic or one third of the North but on an all-island basis. This is something we will examine. I have no doubt from discussions I have had with various people that this is not far from the minds of those who are talking in terms of trying to put together multiplexes. They will avail of this legislation into the future and will utilise a multiplex on the DTT framework.

I assure the Senator that I am not dismissing the point he is making. In regard to the BBC charter, there may be something specific that prohibits the wider availability of its services on a free-to-air basis, just as the legislation prohibited RTE in this regard. It is not the main hurdle we must overcome, however, and where there is a will there is a way.

Senator Finucane asked about the fact that I used the word "commercial" on several occasions in reference to DTT services. The provision of broadcasting services on a DTT platform is a commercial enterprise. One of the multiplexes will be free-to-air and will include RTE and the other terrestrial Irish channels. All other services, however, will be commercial. Senator Finucane asked specifically about the effects of the DTT platform on other commercial providers. The answer is that it will represent competition for them. I cannot answer how effective the competition will be or who will win the battle. Commercial operators will make decisions on the basis of whether they believe they will get a return. They will have to vie for their place in the market.

DTT is something that is mandated. The reason the EU is so keen for analogue switch-off by 2012 at the latest is all to do with having spectrum available for an entire range of services other than television broadcasting, including telecommunications, emergency services and so on. I take the view that we should not be totally dependent on the private sector and that public infrastructure should be in place that allows us to provide public service broadcasting on a DTT platform. Some of the commercial interests may not be best pleased about this, but it is in the national interest that we ensure this is the case. That is why the Government, with the agreement of all sides in both Houses, brought this section of the Bill forward. We must take action in this regard sooner rather than later. These developments will create additional competition for existing providers but they are absolutely necessary in the national interest.

The Minister referred to co-operation on an east-west basis and across the entire island. Bearing in mind the Treaty of Rome and EU regulations governing the free movement of labour and services, I contend that the franchise areas operated by Sky Television are anti-European and anti-competitive and should be challenged.

I completely agree with the Minister's point, which I have made myself on many occasions, that we should not be dependent on Sky Television. I do not understand or support the notion that RTE should be encrypted on Sky. The opportunities we are missing out on are extraordinary. The Sky astro satellite has a footprint that stretches from Belmullet to the Balkans and south through most of Spain. All of that audience is available to us to put forward our message. Public service channels in small countries such as Cyprus and Malta, for instance, can be tuned into on a free-to-air basis throughout Europe. One can tune into RTE from any place in Europe but one cannot receive the signal unless one is a Sky customer.

The Minister said something revolutionary today and it is only fair to recognise that. It is important that we should not be dependent on the private sector — in this case, Sky Television. It would be easy for us to take satellite space on our own and to broadcast our public service channels on exactly the same frequency and geostationary reception area as they are currently assigned by Sky. An Irish person living in Brussels, Rome, Madrid or the south of France can happily watch Gaelic games or anything else on RTE television so long as they have gone to a shop in Ireland and bought a Sky satellite decoder and card and brought them with them.

I have had many discussions in recent years with RTE about why the service is encrypted rather then free-to-air. By putting up a satellite dish anywhere in France, Italy, Spain or the Benelux countries, one can, without being a Sky subscriber, tune into BBC1, BBC2, BBC3, BBC4, ITV1, ITV2, ITV3 and ITV4, all free-to-air. RTE, however, cannot be received because it is encrypted. RTE says the reason it is encrypted is to do with the purchase of programmes and related strictures regarding audience sizes. I do not accept that explanation. However, even an arrangement whereby some programmes could be blanked out but news and home-made programmes could be broadcast free-to-air would be a major advance.

Every group of Irish emigrants in Europe to whom I have spoken raises this issue. RTE's response is that such people can tune in via the Internet. Many do so but the service should be available to view free-to-air. All over Europe, RTE Radio 1 and Radio 2, Lyric FM and Raidió na Gaeltachta can be accessed. Tá siadsan ar fáil on EPG simply. Why is this not the case in regard to RTE television services? The simplest way to facilitate the east-west co-operation to which the Minister referred is to have the RTE signal encrypted on an astro satellite platform so that viewers in Europe do not need to be Sky subscribers to access it. I ask the Minister to take on board this suggestion and to investigate whether the movement by Sky to create franchise areas in Europe is anti-European in that it mitigates against the free movement of labour and services. That is not available. In terms of our message as a country and an economy, this would be very attractive and something for which we should strive.

I acknowledge what Senator O'Toole said in this regard. It is certainly a novel idea blanking out some of the programmes as one transmits freely across Europe. It is encrypted on satellite because if it was in the clear, there would be the major copyright issues I mentioned earlier. I will raise the Senator's point about whether home produced news and current affairs programmes could be free-to-air across Europe to see if it is a possibility. Part of the reason the BBC can do what it does is that it owns the rights on Freesat.

Amendmentagreed to.
Amendments Nos. 28 to 31, inclusive, not moved.
Section 4, as amended, agreed to.
Sections 5 to 7, inclusive, agreed to.

I move amendment No. 32:

In page 9, before section 8, to insert the following new section:

"8.—(1) It shall be a duty of the Commission for Communications Regulation to arrange for the collection of the annual tv licence from all those liable to pay such a licence, and to make available promptly to the Minister the full proceeds of such collection.

(2) In arranging for the collection of the annual tv licence, the Commission shall have special regard to—

(a) minimising the expenses of the collection process, and

(b) ensuring the maximum possible compliance by those liable.

(3) Before putting in place a system of collection, the Commission shall research best practice from around the world in the efficient collection of tv licences, and in particular shall pay special attention to arrangements (such as currently apply in Cyprus) which take advantage of an existing universal collection arrangement such as the domestic electricity bill.

(4) At five-yearly intervals following the commencement of this section, the Commission for Communications Regulation shall arrange to have carried out an independent assessment of the effectiveness of the collection arrangements in place, and shall provide an immediate report on such assessment to the Minister who shall as soon as may be place it before each House of the Oireachtas.".

I apologise to Senator Quinn but I must leave the House for approximately 15 to 20 minutes. The Minister of State, Deputy Browne, will take over.

The reason I propose this amendment is that we have a seriously dysfunctional method of collecting our television licence. The effect of it is to waste a large proportion of the money collected. That money is lost to broadcasting. A further effect is that a large and increasing number of people succeed in evading payment of the licence fee altogether. That creates unfairness and makes life more expensive for the majority of law-abiding people.

Since the licence fee was first collected in the 1920s, there has been no change in the approach to the manner in which it is collected. We still collect the licence free in exactly the same way we did more than 80 years ago despite all the changes which have taken place in the meantime. My amendment proposes that we take a fundamental look at the television licence fee and at how it is collected, and that we substitute our current way of doing things with a more efficient and modern way to achieve our objectives in this area. We need new thinking by a new set of people who will not carry any of the baggage of the existing players. We need people who will stand back from the current situation and devise a better way. I have no doubt a better way can be devised.

The television licence is a tax. Any taxation expert will tell one that a primary consideration with every tax is how much it costs to collect it. The ideal is a tax which, in effect, collects itself. The ultimate horror is a tax that needs a special, dedicated mechanism to collect it. It is horrific because that way is always the most expensive way to collect a tax.

My amendment proposes that before creating a new arrangement for collecting the television licence, we should look around the world to see what lessons can be learned from experience in other countries. One such country is Cyprus which has a delightfully simple way to collect its television licence. It is added to everybody's electricity bill each billing period. In effect, collecting the licence costs virtually nothing. Compliance is not the issue since people must pay their electricity bill or their power is cut off.

There is another feature of the Cypriot system which we might consider adopting. Instead of a fixed amount being collected for the television licence — in other words, everybody pays the same amount — they levy a certain proportion of the cost of one's electricity bill. In that way, they ensure better off people, who presumably spend more on electricity, also pay more for their television licence. There are attractions to this approach but it is quite separate to the fundamental characteristic of the Cypriot approach which is to roll together the collection of the television licence and the electricity bill.

The reason this makes sense is that these days, ownership of a television set is virtually universal. There is not 100% ownership but I gather it is probably 97%. That is why we should concentrate on the very few exceptions, namely, the few people who decide not to have a television. We should make them apply for the exemption from the television levy. For everybody else, we should assume they have a television and charge them accordingly instead of wasting a large amounts of money on detection vans and on schemes to find those who seek to avoid paying. The majority of people would greatly prefer a better and more efficient way to collect the television licence because it would make significantly greater funds available to be spent on broadcasting. In the interests of all those working in the industry, we should push for such an approach.

I purposely used words such as "shall have special regard to". In other words, I am not saying we have to do this but it is something at which we should look. There is much validity in this approach. Having worn an An Post hat in the past, I would be regarded as somebody who is being disloyal to it if it is no longer being given the job and the licence fee is to be added to the electricity bill. It is not a solution to say it is being done by somebody at present. If it is not the most efficient way of collecting the licence, we should find a more efficient way to do so. My amendment is worthy of consideration and I look forward to the Minister's reply.

I support Senator Quinn's amendment which is, as usual, a practical and sensible approach to an important issue. As he quite rightly said, money is being used — I do not want to say "wasted" — collecting the licence fee which is then not available for its initial and most important purpose, namely, public service broadcasting. It is a worthwhile amendment and I hope the Minister will consider it.

We should listen carefully to Senator Quinn who has decades of experience collecting money very successfully. It is important we take note of what he says despite the fact I very much enjoy the advertisements on the television where a man is watching a golfer just about to take a putt when the television licence inspector knocks on the door, or where there is some romantic interlude on television when the television licence inspector arrives in. I support what Senator Quinn said because we are probably expending a lot of money on the small number who do not have television licences. The simplest way to do this is probably the best way.

There is the dreadful situation at present where people are being sent to jail for non-payment of fines. While I know legislation is being brought forward on this issue, it is a terrible waste of money. This proposal would get rid of that element. People are far more likely to pay their electricity bill than their television licence.

All Members on the Government side of the House wonder whether Senator Quinn knows more about An Post than do they, given his past experience as its chairman. Moreover, while the Minister of State will have a view on the underlying text of the amendment, I support the motives behind it. It is important to realise that the efficient collection of the television licence has a direct impact on television and radio programming as it pertains to RTE. I understand the split in broadcasting revenue has changed in favour of the commercial side. This constitutes a danger, because the original concept was that public service broadcasting effectively would be funded on a 50:50 basis and that the public would pay a television licence that would largely fund RTE. Unfortunately, when commercial interests become involved, a form of creeping commercialism takes place that can dilute the public service concept. This is particularly true in the media, as Members will have witnessed in other areas.

Public service broadcasting is coming under increasing threat across Europe and anything that will improve the efficient collection of television licence fees is to be welcomed. However, I am uncertain whether this suggestion is the correct approach to take. Members on the Government benches have been considering the Cypriot example, which makes use of the electricity bill. What happens if someone has a private generator, if someone wants to opt out, or, human nature being what it is, if someone pirates electricity from others? In addition, were this method to be used, it would be necessary to consider refusals to pay licence fees on the basis of not having a television set. However, these are only minor quibbles and I do not wish to detract from the highly measured approach adopted by Senator Quinn while tabling this amendment before the House.

While I share the concern expressed by Senator Quinn and other Members to the effect that the collection of television licence fees should be efficient and effective, I do not propose to accept this amendment. The issue of the television licence fee and the manner in which it is collected is being reviewed actively in the context of the draft general scheme of the forthcoming broadcasting Bill. As the Senator is probably aware, the draft general scheme has been submitted to the Oireachtas Joint Committee on Communications, Marine and Natural Resources for public consultation under the e-consultation initiative. I understand there has been considerable comment during the course of the consultation process on the basis for the television licence fee, its collection and whether suitable alternatives exist. The Government proposes to bring forward legislative proposals in respect of this issue in light of the outcome of the e-consultation process.

As for the issues raised by Members, a variety of mechanisms are used to fund public service broadcasting. Most of northern Europe avails of television licences. The Netherlands applies a special levy on income tax, France levies a household tax, Spain and Flanders provide direct Exchequer funding while Greece, Turkey and Cyprus avail of television licences. The United Kingdom, which is most similar to Ireland, recently reviewed the concept of the television licence and decided that while it is not a perfect system, no immediate alternative exists. The British authorities will review the issue in 2012.

As the Government is considering this issue at present in the context of the wider broadcasting Bill, on which consultation is under way, this matter is not appropriate to the Bill under consideration. However, I share the Members' sentiments and I expect the matter will be dealt with more effectively when the forthcoming broadcasting Bill comes before the Houses of the Oireachtas.

I thank the Minister of State for his consideration. I did not necessarily expect that the amendment would be accepted at this time. However, it should be noted that the amendment did not outline what should be done. It suggested the commission should have regard to the manner in which it is done. I feel frustrated when I encounter surmountable inefficiencies and I believe this to be an inefficient method of collecting television licence fees.

Last year, I was contacted by a highly annoyed individual, who is quite anti-television and does not possess a set. However, he had received a letter from An Post that accused him of failing to pay his licence fee. I contacted An Post about the matter and its representative explained to me that since so few people did not have television sets, the organisation deemed it acceptable to assume that everyone has one. I assume An Post is obliged to apologise to the few who do not — although I did not hear an apology. It assumed that everyone has a television set and I understand it was correct in approximately 97% or 98% of cases. However, the remaining 2% to 3%, for whom this was incorrect, were upset because they had been accused of failing to pay their television licences.

I mention this because this method appears to be inefficient and other ways may be better. The method used in Cyprus impressed me. While I understand the Minister's methods differ from those operating in other countries, I suggest the Cypriot method should be included and put into the melting pot in whatever Bill is tabled by the Government to consider the best method of collecting the fee.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
Government amendment No. 33:
In page 9, subsection (1), line 11, after "multiplexes" to insert "and subject tosubsection (2)”.
Amendment agreed to.
Government amendment No. 34:
In page 9, between lines 15 and 16, to insert the following subsection:
"(2) Without prejudice tosubsection (1), the Commission shall within six months after this section has come into force endeavour to invite applications for multiplex contracts in respect of the three national television multiplexes referred to in section 4(4).”.
Amendment agreed to.
Amendment No. 35 not moved.
Section 8, as amended, agreed to.
Government amendment No. 36:
In page 10, subsection (2), lines 13 to 20, to delete paragraphs (c) and (d) and substitute the following:
"(c) the range and type of programme material or compilations of programme material proposed to be included in the multiplex by the applicant and how the applicant proposes to secure continued inclusion of such material,
(d) in the case of a television multiplex, any proposals by the applicant for promoting the acquisition by persons in the proposed coverage area of equipment capable of—
(i) receiving all of the television multiplexes available or expected to be available in that area, including the national multiplex referred to insection 3(2)(a), and
(ii) enabling such persons to keep themselves informed of the choice of programme material included in those multiplexes,".
Amendment agreed to.
Government amendment No. 37:
In page 10, subsection (2), lines 24 and 25, to delete paragraph (f) and substitute the following:
"(f) the technical proposal, including a timetable for implementation, regarding the establishment, maintenance and operation of the proposed multiplex,”.

Amendment No. 37 makes an amendment to section 9, in that it requires the Broadcasting Commission of Ireland to consider additionally the timetable for the implementation of the technical proposals submitted by multiplex contractors. It is important to ensure that all multiplexes are rolled out in a timely manner and that the contractors adhere to construction timetables. This will also help to ensure compatibility between the multiplexes.

Amendment agreed to.
Section 9, as amended, agreed to.
Section 10 agreed to.
Amendments Nos. 38 to 45, inclusive, not moved.

I move amendment No. 46:

In page 12, subsection (2), between lines 43 and 44, to insert the following:

"(d) the principal British television broadcasting services which are free to air as of the enactment of this Act.”.

Reference has already been made to this issue in the context of previous amendments. It pertains to the question arising from the fact that at present, British television stations and services are available free to air to a substantial part of Ireland. The figure for the number of households that receive British broadcasting services at present due to what is known as the spill-over on the analogue service varies and may be open to dispute. However, the fact remains that a substantial proportion of Ireland receives the British channels free to air at present and has done so for many years.

Earlier, the Minister stated that the first multiplex roll-out would maintain the Irish stations on a free to air basis. This has always been my understanding and is as it should be. However, like me the Minister is a politician and I am sure he is aware that in the past, this issue has been contentious. I refer to the deflector issue. People have been receiving additional services and this issue could become contentious when the analogue service is switched off and its digital replacement is introduced. I doubt whether many people are aware at present that in future, they will be obliged to pay for something that is now free. Members are aware of what people are like when it comes to such matters.

While I recognise the Minister's remarks in respect of copyright and so on, an opportunity is available to make what is currently available on the east coast available on a nationwide basis. Previously, the Minister for Communications, Marine and Natural Resources stated three multiplexes are planned and in their roll-out, the British services available free-to-air on the east coast will become free to air in the rest of the country. I accept issues may arise and the reason I tabled the amendment is to tease out this important matter and hear the Minister of State's response.

I support Senator O'Meara. This is an important issue. We discussed it earlier and we do not need to go through it again. However, we did not discuss the financial cost. I presume an additional cost will arise if these channels are on one of the multiplexes which will charge. Senator O'Meara makes a good point in that the entire project will not be a success if those who now receive these channels for free find they must pay for them.

It is anticipated the UK overspill will be reduced from 2008 when the analogue switch-off is planned. However, UK services are already available to Irish viewers on cable, satellite and MMDS services. While I recognise the concerns of Senators about the availability of UK broadcasting services to Irish households, my primary aim is to create a legislative framework for Irish broadcasting services. Therefore, I cannot accept the amendment proposed.

I expect that with the full roll-out of DTT services, multiplex operators will offer UK TV services given the level of demand which exists in the Irish market. In addition, while UK analogue services will be switched off from 2008, a degree of UK digital spillover may remain available to Irish viewers.

Will the Minister of State expand on his final sentence regarding future UK digital spillover? To whom will the spillover be available and where? Will the current inequality between one set of viewers and another continue? The intention of my amendment is to give everybody equal access to what many people, but not everybody, has.

I am advised some spillover will occur, especially in Border areas, but not as much as happens at present.

That will be even worse than the present situation. I understood spillover would end when analogue was switched off. However, it seems the inequality will continue. I can neither agree with the Minister of State nor withdraw the amendment.

Unfortunately, the British have decided to switch off and it is outside our control.

I am aware of that. RTE will have the first multiplex. However, the BCI will roll out the other multiplexes which we discussed at some length. The BCI should be required to ensure the British channels available free-to-air to a substantial part of the country will continue to remain free-to-air to them and, on a more equitable basis, be free-to-air to everyone in the country. I did not hear a good reason not to do so.

Previously, the Minister for Communications, Marine and Natural Resources discussed copyright issues. If they must be explored, let us explore them. I did not hear a solid reason in the Minister of State's reply to reject my amendment.

As the Minister for Communications, Marine and Natural Resources, Deputy Noel Dempsey, stated, the Irish public has long enjoyed the happy accident of the overspill of UK analogue services. The UK will switch off these services over the next five years. This has nothing to do with the roll-out of Irish DTT. It is simply the actions of the UK authorities in planning for their spectrum use. Some DTT overspill is likely to be available in the future. However, enacting this legislation will create a framework for a multichannel framework on DTT in Ireland.

Is the amendment being pressed?

This is a very important issue. I will re-submit the amendment on Report Stage and on that basis, I withdraw the amendment and ask the Minister of State to consider this important point. What the Minister of State is stating to the public, especially those with free-to-air access to British broadcasting services, is the Government is happy for that access to go and for people to pay for it.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
Government amendment No. 47:
In page 13, subsection (4), line 3, to delete paragraph (a) and substitute the following:
"(a) the holders of all television multiplex contracts,”.
Amendment agreed to.
Amendment No. 48 not moved.
Section 11, as amended, agreed to.
Section 12 agreed to.
Government amendment No. 49:
In page 14, line 15, after "a" to insert "television".
Amendment agreed to.
Section 13, as amended, agreed to.
Government amendment No. 50:
In page 14, before section 14, to insert the following new section:
"14.—Section 28 of the Act of 2001 is hereby amended—
(a) by substituting the following for paragraphs (c) and (d) of subsection (8):
"(c) exercising all or any of the powers conferred on it by subsection (2) (other than paragraphs (bb) and (bbb) (inserted by this Act) thereof) of section 16 of the Act of 1960,
(d) providing, pursuant to its powers under the Broadcasting Authority Acts 1960 to 2001, any service (other than a broadcasting service) for the benefit of the public,
(e) providing a service under subsection (1A) of section 16 of the Act of 1960, and
(f) the establishment, maintenance and operation of one or more national multiplexes pursuant to subsection (1) of section 16 of the Act of 1960.”,
(b) by substituting the following for subsection (10):
"(10) Without prejudice to sections 25(1) and 26 of the Act of 1960, the Authority shall, as soon as may be after the end of each financial year, make a report to the Minister of the use it has made with regard to, respectively, the television broadcasting service and the sound broadcasting service referred to in subsection (1) and the television broadcasting service and sound broadcasting service referred to in subsection (1A) of section 16 of the Act of 1960, of the moneys paid to it under section 8 of the Act of 1976 in that year for the purpose of the activities, during that year, referred to in paragraphs (a), (b) and (c) of subsection (2) and paragraphs (d) and (e) of subsection (8).”.”.

Acceptance of this amendment involves the deletion of section 14. It is a new section and was already discussed with amendment No. 4.

Amendment agreed to.
Section 14 deleted.
Amendment No. 51 not moved.
Amendments Nos. 52 and 53 not moved.
Government amendment No. 54:
In page 15, line 19, after "service" to insert "and sound broadcasting service".
Amendment agreed to.
Section 15, as amended, agreed to.
Sections 16 to 18, inclusive, agreed to.
Schedule agreed to.
Title agreed to.
Bill reported with amendments.

When is it proposed to take Report Stage?

I had hoped to take Report Stage now because most of the concerns outlined by Members on Committee Stage were dealt with by the Minister. I accept, however, that Senator O'Meara has a problem with a particular section and wishes to resubmit her amendment on Report Stage. I will not push for Report Stage to be taken now but suggest we take it next Tuesday, 13 February 2007.

I thank the Acting Leader.

Report Stage ordered for Tuesday, 13 February 2007.

I ask the Acting Leader to move the suspension of the House until 5 p.m.

I intended to move a change to the Order of Business. Is that not possible?

Our understanding is that the House is to suspend until 5 p.m.

I understand that but, following a conversation I had outside the Chamber, I intended to propose taking the Communications Regulation (Amendment) Bill 2007 now.

It was agreed on the Order of Business this morning that there would be a suspension of at least 30 minutes.

The Chair's understanding is that the House is to suspend until 5 p.m. Is that agreed? Agreed.

Sitting suspended at 4.40 p.m. and resumed at 5 p.m.