The provision of telecommunications services, including broadband, is a matter in the first instance for the private sector companies operating in a fully liberalised market, regulated by the Commission for Communications Regulation (ComReg), the independent regulator. However, it has been clear for some time that the private sector has failed to invest in broadband infrastructure at the level necessary to keep pace with the demand for broadband. My Department's regional broadband programme is addressing the infrastructure deficit by building high-speed open access broadband networks, in association with the local and regional authorities, in the major towns and cities. These Metropolitan Area Networks (MANs) will allow the private sector to offer world-class broadband services at competitive costs.
Twenty-seven MANs have been completed under the first phase and are currently being managed by ENet, the Management Services Entity. The second phase extends the programme to over 90 towns with a population of 1,500 and above that do not have a satisfactory broadband offering from the private sector.
My Department offers funding assistance for smaller towns and rural communities through the County and Group Broadband Scheme. The scheme is technology-neutral, allowing the community to select the most suitable broadband delivery platform for the area. To date, over 160 projects have been approved for funding under this Programme. A joint industry/Government fund of €18 million has been established for the Broadband for Schools Programme to resource the provision of high speed broadband connectivity to all primary and post primary schools in the country by end Autumn 2006, at no cost to the schools themselves. 95% of schools have broadband installed to date; the aim is to complete the outstanding schools in the coming weeks. However, I recognise that despite these successes there are some parts of the country where the private sector will be unable to justify the commercial provision of broadband connectivity. I am currently examining options to address the delivery of broadband services to these areas and I hope to be in a position to bring proposals to Government shortly.