Ireland’s telecommunications market has been liberalised since 1999 and since then has developed into a well-regulated market, supporting a multiplicity of commercial operators, providing services over a diverse range of technology platforms. Details of broadband services available on a County-by-County basis can be found on the website of the Commission for Communications Regulation (ComReg) at www.callcosts.ie. The Government has undertaken a number of initiatives to bring broadband to those parts of the country where operators have been unable to offer services on a commercial basis.
The State only becomes involved in the provision of services in instances of clear market failure, such as in the case of the National Broadband Scheme (NBS). My Department entered into a contract in late 2008 with Hutchison 3G Ireland Ltd (“3”) for the delivery of the NBS. The Scheme offers a basic broadband service, in line with EU State aid clearance, to fixed residences and businesses located within certain designated Electoral Divisions. In County Laois, NBS services are available within 28 of its 98 Electoral Divisions. Under EU State Aid rules, the NBS is prohibited from providing a service in served areas where to do so would give rise to an unacceptable level of market distortion.
The Rural Broadband Scheme (RBS) was launched in 2011 in recognition of the fact that despite the widespread availability of broadband throughout Ireland, there still remained individual premises that were unable to receive broadband provision. This Scheme was aimed at making a basic broadband service available to un-served premises in rural areas, not already covered by the NBS. Commercial service providers were in a position to offer services to almost all applicants under the Scheme who agreed to engage with them, including applicants from County Laois.
In addition to consumer services, there is a State-funded Metropolitan Area Network in Portlaoise. These networks provide high capacity fibre connectivity for businesses and telecoms operators in the region. The combination of private investment and State interventions means that Ireland has met the EU Commission’s Digital Agenda for Europe target of having a basic broadband service available to all areas by 2013, and the focus is now on accelerating the roll out of high speed services.
The Government’s National Broadband Plan, which I published in August last, aims to radically change the broadband landscape in Ireland by ensuring that high speed services of at least 30Mbps are available to all of our citizens and businesses, well in advance of the EU’s target date of 2020, and that significantly higher speeds are available to as many homes and businesses as possible. Specifically, it commits to: 70Mbps to 100Mbps available from the commercial market operators to more than half of the population by 2015, At least 40Mbps, and in many cases faster speeds, to at least a further 20% and potentially as much as 35% of the population, and A minimum of 30Mbps for every remaining home and business in the country.
During the preparation of Ireland’s National Broadband Plan, the commercial market operators indicated that they expect to provide 70Mbps to 100Mbps services to 50% of the population by 2015. The commercial sector is already making these investments in high speed services, particularly in urban and semi-urban areas. The Government is also committed in the Plan to investing in areas where high speed services are not commercially viable and will not be provided by the market.
My Department is making preparations to commence a formal national mapping exercise to identify where the market is expected to succeed and fail in the delivery of high speed broadband over the coming years. This will inform the level of Government interaction that may be required and the areas that need to be targeted for a State-led investment. It will also form a critical input to an EU State Aid application in respect of any State-led intervention. Through the implementation of the National Broadband Plan, we are committed to increasing the availability of next generation speeds significantly, with a view to ensuring that all citizens and business can participate fully in a digitally enabled society. I would reiterate that the Government remains committed to the delivery of the speeds referred to above, to ensure that all parts of Ireland, including County Laois, will have at least 30Mbps connectivity.