Thursday, 4 November 2004

Questions (136, 137, 138)

Bernard J. Durkan

Question:

133 Mr. Durkan asked the Minister for Communications, Marine and Natural Resources his views on a recent newspaper article regarding the inadequate response by his Department and Eircom to the urgent need for the early provision of broadband facilities throughout the country, with particular reference to the inadequacy of the investment programme required; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [27675/04]

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Written answers (Question to Minister for Communications, Marine and Natural Resources)

In a liberalised market, it is a matter in the first instance for the market players to provide telecommunications and broadband services. Recognising, however, that the pace of high speed broadband rollout to the regions was not sufficient to attain the Government's national broadband goals as set out in New Connections and in its broadband strategy, in March 2002, the then Minister announced the regional metropolitan area network programme. Against the backdrop of this concern, later in 2002, Forfás and the Department of the Taoiseach engaged SJS Consulting Incorporated to review that programme and the policy options for national broadband rollout generally.

As part of this process, the consultants held discussions with my Department, Eircom and other service providers. Officials from my Department met Eircom representatives on a number of occasions to discuss the options put forward by the consultants. The consultants and officials from my Department also met other market players and a number of public consultations under the aegis of IBEC's telecoms and Internet federation and Forfás were also held.

Negotiations were not entered into with Eircom or any other party at any stage. At no stage were terms such as those postulated in The Sunday Business Post article on offer nor did the Government offer to fund Eircom directly or indirectly through subsidised loans, tax breaks or any other means. This has also been publicly confirmed by Eircom.

The Government at the time was dissatisfied with the speed of broadband rollout and decided to intervene with a view to bringing forward proposals to address this problem. Government policy is that it favours investment in open access infrastructure which all operators have access to on similar transparent terms. That is the idea behind the Government's open access metropolitan area network programme, which is rolling out high speed broadband infrastructure to all 120 towns and cities regionally.

The Sunday Business Post article of 31 October last to which the Deputy refers, contends, inter alia, that the Government offered Eircom a €1.8 billion deal to roll out broadband nationally. It also contends that Eircom was offered a range of incentives such as tax breaks, subsidised loans, amendments to the building regulations and price increases as "carrots". These claims are untrue.

Consultancy advice contained in a report to a Government subcommittee, agency or a Department should not be misconstrued as Government policy. The telecommunications market is a regulated market and, thus, action by Government has to be consonant with national and EU regulation. Accordingly, the Government is not in the business of entering exclusive contracts of the kind inferred by the article with any market entities.

Paddy McHugh

Question:

134 Mr. McHugh asked the Minister for Communications, Marine and Natural Resources if he will engage with Eircom to bring about a situation whereby Eircom poles creating traffic hazards and preventing development works being carried out are removed by the company at its own expense; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [27697/04]

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The matter raised by the Deputy is an operational matter between Eircom and the relevant local authority. I have no function in these matters.

Paddy McHugh

Question:

135 Mr. McHugh asked the Minister for Communications, Marine and Natural Resources the progress being made on the pilot broadband project being carried out (details supplied); and if he will make a statement on the matter. [27698/04]

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Under the terms of a grant agreement drawn up between my Department and the Electricity Supply Board, the company has constructed a 1,300 km fibre optic trunk network, providing low-cost backhaul for broadband service providers in many parts of the country. In addition to the fibre trunk network, the grant agreement also provides for the installation of power line carrier technology, which is under way in 100 premises in Tuam, County Galway. The technology has been, by and large, proven in other countries and is being assessed for technical and commercial suitability under Irish conditions. The project in Tuam is ongoing and the company is addressing technical and network issues as they arise. A full report will be published following completion of the installation.