On 8 February the European Council reached an agreement on the EU Budget Multiannual Financial Framework 2014-20. The Regulation will now be the subject of agreement by the Council and requires the consent of the European Parliament before it is adopted. While the proposed cut to the Connecting Europe Facility (CEF) is regrettable, I do not anticipate that there will be any significant impact on Ireland’s ambitious plans, as set out last year in the Government’s National Broadband Plan (NBP). The plan aims to ensure that all premises in the country, irrespective of location, will have access to high-speed broadband in line with the targets set by the EU in the Digital Agenda for Europe. It did not specifically envisage support from the CEF, which is targeted at enhancing the case for commercial investment.
As the NBP outlines, most of the investment in broadband roll-out is expected to come from the private sector and there is strong evidence of this investment now taking place. For example, both UPC and eircom have ongoing ambitious capital investment plans and the mobile operators in the Irish market recently made very significant investments in acquiring newly-released spectrum which was auctioned by ComReg and will be used to roll out advanced mobile broadband services. The State will only intervene in those parts of the country which are not deemed commercially viable for commercial investment. My Department has recently advertised for technical, economic and financial assistance to identify this market gap and design an appropriate procurement process, in line with the ambition as expressed in the NBP.