Tuesday, 26 February 2013

Questions (413)

Bernard Durkan


413. Deputy Bernard J. Durkan asked the Minister for Communications, Energy and Natural Resources the extent to which standard, quality and speed of broadband here currently compares with the best available worldwide; his plans to maximise this country's position in this regard; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [10332/13]

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Written answers (Question to Communications)

There has been significant growth in the take up of broadband services and contracted speeds in Ireland in recent years. The most recent telecommunications data report by the Commission for Communications Regulation (ComReg), reveals that the number of broadband subscribers has more than doubled to over 1.6 million between 2007 and 2012. Similarly, in the case of speeds, the number of residential customers contracted in a range between 2 – 10 Mbps increased from 41% of all subscribers in 2007 to 71% in 2012. The number of subscribers accessing speeds exceeding 10 Mbps increased from 0.2% to 24%.

EU and international comparisons of broadband services are complex to measure and interpret. For example, OECD surveys calculate an average of all advertised broadband speeds. The average speed reduces if there is a significant choice of products advertised at these lower speeds. In addition OECD calculations do not differentiate between services that are available nationally and services which are available in selected areas. Similarly, EU Commission statistics published on its digital scoreboard website, compare advertised versus actual speeds and are based on 2011 data. Comparisons between countries do not take account of distinct geographical and demographic challenges that face countries such as Ireland where the population is highly dispersed.

EU Commission statistics, published on its digital scoreboard website, which compare advertised broadband speeds across the EU notes that 84% of subscribers in Ireland access speeds in a range between 2-10 Mbps compared to the EU average of 87% in this range. In the case of speeds at or exceeding 10 Mbps, the EU Commission reports 29% availability over fixed lines in Ireland compared to an EU average of 48%. In the most recently available OECD data, Ireland’s penetration is ranked 13th in terms of wireless connections and 25th in terms of fixed line connections. The average speed reported by OECD for Ireland is 23 Mbps compared to an OECD average closer to 45 Mbps. Other international studies rank Ireland well in terms of actual speeds experienced by users.

The more recent ComReg report notes an overall trend of customers contracting at higher speeds. The proportion of customers contracting at or below 2 Mbps fell from 7% to 5% of all subscriptions between 2011 and 2012. Increasingly, subscribers are contracting at speeds in excess of 10Mbps.

Recent market developments are dramatically changing the landscape of high speed broadband provision in Ireland. 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 committed to investments of the order of some €1bn and is accelerating its investment to deliver broadband speeds of 30Mbps to 150Mbps to homes and businesses. For example:

- Eircom is currently investing up to €500m in a phased deployment of fibre to the cabinet infrastructure, which is planned to make high-speed broadband available to some 1.2m premises. The network has already reached more than 230,000 premises and is expected to be launched over the coming months;

- UPC is investing €500m in its cable and fibre network, which is delivering speeds of up to 150Mbps. UPC aims to have this service available to 700,000 homes by 2015;

- Mobile telecommunications operators will be rolling out advanced mobile broadband products in 2013, following the recent multi-band spectrum auction.

The National Broadband Plan commits the Government 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 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.

This will ensure that citizens or businesses, wherever they are located, have a broadband connection which meets their needs to interact effectively with society and business.