I propose to take Questions Nos. 214, 229 and 239 together.
The telecommunications sector is fully liberalised, and regulated by the independent Commission for Communications Regulation, ComReg. With the repeal of section 111 of the Postal and Telecommunications Services Act 1983 on 25 July 2003, the former licensing regime has been replaced by a general entitlement to provide telecommunications networks and services, including broadband, subject to compliance with standard conditions set out by ComReg in a general authorisation.
Before providing networks or services to third parties operators are required to submit a notification to ComReg for the purposes of compiling a register of such operators. In March 2004 my predecessor issued a number of policy directions to ComReg relating to competition, broadband, wholesale and retail line rental, interconnection and leased lines, and national and cross-border roaming.
Access to suitable infrastructure is a major factor in the provision of broadband by the sector. However, recognising that investment by the sector had failed to keep pace with demand, the Government decided in March 2002 to target the widespread availability of open access, affordable infrastructure, using ERDF and State funding under the NDP 2000-06. The metropolitan area networks, or MANs, programme is the mainstay of the Government's broadband strategy, and has given the sector access to world-class infrastructure that it could not afford to build for itself. Full details of the MANs programme and my Department's other broadband rollout initiatives can be found on the website www.dcmnr.gov.ie.
As an indicator of the increasingly buoyant state of the broadband market in Ireland, ComReg's register of authorised undertakings currently lists 169 service providers offering Internet access using a variety of technologies including DSL, fixed wireless, cable modem, fibre, leased lines and satellite technology. My Department's website, www.broadband.gov.ie, lists 190 different service offers from the sector, ranging from 0.256 Mbps to 56 Mbps, and 25 of those offers are priced at €25 per month or less. The number of broadband users is now over 160,000, an increase of more than 400% since January 2004, and I am confident that the industry can achieve the target I have set it of 500,000 broadband customers by the end of 2006.