Telecommunications Services Provision

Question No. 105 answered with Question No. 100.

Question No. 106 answered with Question No. 104.

Questions (104, 106, 131)

Brendan Smith

Question:

104. Deputy Brendan Smith asked the Minister for Communications, Energy and Natural Resources the way he plans to expand Ireland's digital economy; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [10070/13]

View answer

Timmy Dooley

Question:

106. Deputy Timmy Dooley asked the Minister for Communications, Energy and Natural Resources his proposals to advance the digital society here; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [10060/13]

View answer

Charlie McConalogue

Question:

131. Deputy Charlie McConalogue asked the Minister for Communications, Energy and Natural Resources the way that he will meet the challenge to persuade the remaining one in five households not connected to the internet to do so; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [10081/13]

View answer

Written answers (Question to Communications)

I propose to take Questions Nos. 104, 106 and 131 together.

The Government fully accepts importance of the digital economy and to Ireland’s economic development. Research by Boston Consulting Group cited in the recent UPC report on Ireland’s Digital Future, estimates it will grow from a current rate of about 3% of GDP to 6% by 2016.

Research currently underway in the context of the forthcoming National Digital Strategy will look further at this value and ways it might be enhanced. That research will be concluded shortly and I propose to publish it in parallel with the National Digital Strategy.

As Deputies are aware there is substantial employment in Ireland in the ICT and digital sectors arising from the presence of world leading companies in these areas based in Ireland. In addition, smaller indigenous companies are also making an important contribution. For example, the Digital Hub currently caters for 66 digital enterprises, which between them, employ some 800 people. More than three-quarters (78%) of these companies expanded their business operations last year, with 44% hiring additional staff.

Two-thirds are planning to expand their workforce this year. In addition the National Digital Research Centre (NDRC) has helped to create 155 full-time jobs and 66 part-time jobs by the end of 2012 as a direct result of the projects it has supported.

Following on from last year’s National Broadband I will shortly publish Phase 1 of a new National Digital Strategy. This strategy will focus on how we can maximise the benefits of the digital technology that is available to us and will also target approaches to stimulating demand for broadband services and connectivity.

The Action Plan for Jobs published last week contains details of a specific initiative aimed at incentivising Irish micro-enterprises to begin trading online.

The National Digital Strategy will set out in detail the rationale and overall objectives of this important intervention, which will operate initially on a pilot basis in 2013.

According to CSO statistics, less than 1 in 4 SMEs in Ireland is trading online. It is not simply that firms should embrace digital to create new jobs; it needs to be done in order to preserve existing ones. This is what is happening on a global scale and Irish enterprise must keep pace if it is to survive.

Enhancement of digital skills in our education system and more generally is also of vital importance. In this context my Department is also working in partnership with the Department of Education and Skills to roll out high speed broadband connectivity to all second level schools. I believe that this scheme will assist in equipping schools and students with the digital skills, which are so important in a modern society and labour force.

The commercial sector also has a strong role to play in stimulating demand for Internet services.

The huge increase in the use of smart phones and tablet devices, increased availability of applications such as video-on-demand, and initiatives by Internet services providers to make technology more accessible to targeted segments of society, will continue to impact on the level of take up.

As part of the National Digital Strategy, my Department will work closely with the commercial sector to build on these initiatives, with a view to ensuring that citizens, business and communities realise more fully the potential of a digitally enabled society.

The evidence shows that digital engagement continues to grow steadily – as evidenced by Ireland’s performance in the Digital Agenda for Europe Scoreboard. The most recent EU Scoreboard for Ireland published in 2012 shows 71% of the population are regular internet users – this is up considerably on the 63% score for the previous year – and above the EU average of 68%. The proportion of people who have never used the internet has also noticeably decreased to 21% (from 27% the previous year).

Deputies will be aware that Ireland has performed extremely well in terms of EU benchmarking of eGovernment services. Through the eGovernment strategy published last year my colleague the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform will be building on achievements to date to further improve citizens’ and businesses’ access to, and experience of eGovernment services. Attractive online services will also serve as a further driver of internet engagement.

Deputies will also be aware of my recent appointment of David Puttnam, the distinguished Film Director as Ireland’s Digital Champion. He is strongly committed to the promotion of the digital society. I am confident that in this role he can contribute significantly to raising awareness levels of the many benefits of digital, particularly in the critical sphere of education and learning.

Overall the Deputies can be assured of the Government’s commitment to proactive promotion of the Digital Economy. Much progress has already been made in this regard. The forthcoming publication of the National Digital Strategy will underpin the Government’s commitment and signal specific areas for further development.

Question No. 105 answered with Question No. 100.
Question No. 106 answered with Question No. 104.

Alternative Energy Projects

Questions (107)

Michelle Mulherin

Question:

107. Deputy Michelle Mulherin asked the Minister for Communications, Energy and Natural Resources if he will supply an update on plans to make the Belmullet wave test site, County Mayo, operational, including possible joint ventures involving private investment; the priority that he is giving to the project as part of the development of our indigenous wave energy resource and without which we continue to fall behind other countries in research and development and associated jobs in this up and coming energy area; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [9953/13]

View answer

Written answers (Question to Communications)

Wave and tidal energy is still at the RD&D stage globally. Ireland has a rich ocean resource and has significant potential in this area. In order to take forward the ocean energy strategy, an Ocean Energy Development Unit (OEDU) was established in the Sustainable Energy Authority of Ireland (SEAI) in 2009.

The OEDU has been taking forward the development of the sector through administration of a Prototype Development Fund of grants for industry. SEAI has also been progressing the development of a full scale grid connected wave test site near Belmullet off County Mayo, which would complement existing wave testing facilities i.e. the wave tank in Cork and the quarter scale wave testing site in Galway Bay.

The cumulative amount of expenditure on Ocean Energy in the period 2009 – 2013, including the estimated 2013 allocation, is €20.659m.

Ireland also has an opportunity to become a leader in ocean energy industries and technologies. Accordingly, other supports for the sector include the development of the Beaufort Laboratory as part of the IMERC facility in Cork. This will see a re-housing of the wave tank facility and will bring together researchers in the area currently based in the Hydraulics and Maritime Research Centre (HMRC) and the Coastal and Marine Research Centre (CMRC). The whole process is part of a broader campus approach with the Naval College, UCC and Cork Institute of Technology, aimed at maximising on marine industrial opportunities.

Research in the ocean energy area is ongoing in most universities across the country and ocean energy was recently identified as of 1 of 14 priority research areas by the Department of Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation in their Research Prioritisation Exercise.

The primary rationale for the Ocean Energy Programme, of which the Atlantic Marine Energy Test Site (AMETS) in Belmullet is but one component, is to develop and maximise the employment and wealth-generating industry activities that could potentially be associated with ocean energy as it evolves into a fully commercially viable sector. Various studies carried out to date have illustrated that there is considerable potential to create a range of long term jobs and viable indigenous industry.

Work is continuing in the development of the AMETS facilities off Belmullet and SEAI has been responsible for the co-ordination of the work programme. SEAI has applied to the Department of Environment for a foreshore lease in respect of the project and is the latter stages of the consenting process. Additionally a grid connection offer from ESB Networks has been accepted. A comprehensive data collection project to provide wave and seabed information for device developers is also underway.

The Government recognises the potential of our indigenous wave energy resource and the Research and Development and job potential in this area. In the context of overall reducing budgets, the capital allocation for the Ocean Energy Programme was increased to €5 million for 2013.

One of the priorities to be pursued is the further development of the Atlantic Marine Energy Test Site (AMETS). The potential for private sector involvement is being explored and the strategy as to how to bring this forward will be further considered.

Alternative Energy Projects

Questions (108, 111, 120)

John McGuinness

Question:

108. Deputy John McGuinness asked the Minister for Communications, Energy and Natural Resources his assessment of the future for the biofuels sector here; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [10082/13]

View answer

Barry Cowen

Question:

111. Deputy Barry Cowen asked the Minister for Communications, Energy and Natural Resources the extent to which he sees biofuels playing a role in renewable energy strategy; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [10077/13]

View answer

Robert Troy

Question:

120. Deputy Robert Troy asked the Minister for Communications, Energy and Natural Resources his plans regarding the biofuels sector here; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [10073/13]

View answer

Written answers (Question to Communications)

I propose to take Questions Nos. 108, 111 and 120 together.

The Biofuel Obligation Scheme was introduced in July 2010 as the primary means to meet the target of at least 10% renewable energy in transport by 2020, which was mandated by the 2009 Renewable Energy Directive. In preparing the National Renewable Energy Action Plan as required pursuant to the Directive, it was estimated that at least 8.4% of the energy in transport in Ireland in 2020 will come from the use of biofuels with the remainder achieved by the increased deployment of electric vehicles. In common with other Member States the uptake of electric vehicles is likely to be lower than originally anticipated in the context of 2020 and therefore biofuels will likely be required to play a more significant role in meeting the 10% target.

The Biofuel Obligation Scheme works by obligating large road transport fuel suppliers to bring a certain amount of sustainable biofuels to the market. The scheme was introduced with an obligation on fuel suppliers to include at least 4% by volume biofuels in their overall disposal of road transport fuels. In order to maintain progress towards achieving the 2020 targets, I increased the obligation to 6% by volume with effect from 1 January 2013. It should be noted that strict sustainability criteria must be met in respect of biofuels to be counted under the scheme and towards our renewable energy targets.

Recently, the European Commission circulated a proposal to amend sections of the Renewable Energy Directive. This proposal is currently being progressed and is one of the major agenda items for the Irish presidency of the EU. One of the amendments proposed is that no more than 5% of the energy in the transport sector should come from biofuels produced from certain crops. My Department is currently examining the proposal and its implications for meeting the target of 10% renewable energy by 2020. However, there are no implications for the current obligation rate of 6% as the overall energy content delivered by the obligation will not breach the proposed 5%. The obligation rate of 6% will remain the same until the end of 2014. Decisions on further increases after 2014 will be taken after any amendments to the Renewable Energy Directive have been finalised.

The Biofuel Obligation has successfully delivered increased amounts of biofuel in Ireland resulting in 145 million litres being placed on the Irish market in 2011. Of this, approximately 18.5 million litres was produced indigenously from waste material such as used cooking oil. Though figures for 2012 are not yet available, I understand that the amount of indigenous biofuel on the market increased last year. The recent increase in the obligation rate along with future increases will see the biofuel market grow to an estimated 500 million litres by 2020. This will continue to create opportunities for indigenous industry to produce biofuels here in Ireland.

Exploration Licences Approvals

Questions (109)

Martin Ferris

Question:

109. Deputy Martin Ferris asked the Minister for Communications, Energy and Natural Resources the amount of money that has been received from companies holding a licensing option in the past three years; if he will provide a breakdown of same; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [9978/13]

View answer

Written answers (Question to Communications)

The monies received from companies holding licensing options in the past 3 years in respect of application and rental fees is a follows:

2010

€56,711

2011

€253,586

2012

€453,651

2013

€104,506 (to date)

A licensing option may be granted for a period of up to three years. It is a preliminary authorisation and designed to allow companies assess the petroleum potential of an area, generally on the basis of existing data.

The holder of a licensing option has a right to apply for an exploration licence in respect of the area concerned and must do so by the end of option period, or else relinquish the acreage.

There are twenty two licensing options extant at present (nineteen in respect of the offshore and three in respect of the onshore). Thirteen of these options were granted in 2011 for a term of two years under the Atlantic Margin Licensing Round. Nineteen options in total are due to expire this year and the remaining three in 2014.

Broadband Services Provision

Question No. 111 answered with Question No. 108.

Question No. 112 answered with Question No. 98.

Questions (110, 121)

Brendan Griffin

Question:

110. Deputy Brendan Griffin asked the Minister for Communications, Energy and Natural Resources if he will provide an update on the new national broadband plan; the way he intends to measure progress; the way he will facilitate members of the public with concerns and complaints about the level of internet access available in their areas; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [9945/13]

View answer

Micheál Martin

Question:

121. Deputy Micheál Martin asked the Minister for Communications, Energy and Natural Resources his views on whether broadband speed targets for 2020 of the EU's digital agenda is sufficiently ambitious; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [10064/13]

View answer

Written answers (Question to Communications)

I propose to take Questions Nos. 110 and 121 together.

The Government’s National Broadband Plan 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.

The targets are, in general, in cases of those set by the EU Digital Agenda.

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 making investments of the order of €1bn which will 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 1.2m premises. The network has already reached more than 230,000 premises and is expected to be launched in 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. With the explosion in the use of smart phones and tablet devices, the use of advanced mobile broadband is of increasing significance and it is expected that fibre connections will be required to service many of the base stations that transmit mobile signals.

A key element of the National Broadband Plan is the Government’s commitment 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.

Earlier this month, my Department launched a tender for experts to assist in the design, planning and procurement of the State-led investment. Intensive technical, financial and legal preparations including stakeholder engagement will be on-going throughout 2013 with a view to the launch of a procurement process in 2014.

Any contract subsequently awarded to service provider(s) to implement the roll out of broadband in areas which require direct Government intervention will be monitored and measured in terms of performance and quality of service.

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 have a broadband connection which meets their needs to interact effectively with society and business.

A High Level Group chaired by my Department has been established to oversee progress on a wide range of actions outlined in the Plan aimed at supporting and accelerating investment in next generation broadband. These include measures aimed at stimulating increased rates of digital adoption among citizens and businesses, the removal of barriers to make the various planning and consent approval systems more efficient and cost effective, a review spectrum policy and legislation, as well as the potential contribution that State entities can make in infrastructure deployment.

The combination of these actions are designed to ensure that the Government commitment that all parts of Ireland, will have at least 30Mbps connectivity.

Question No. 111 answered with Question No. 108.
Question No. 112 answered with Question No. 98.

Postal Services

Questions (113)

Michael Moynihan

Question:

113. Deputy Michael Moynihan asked the Minister for Communications, Energy and Natural Resources the position regarding the application by the Thomas Davis Commemoration Society, Mallow, County Cork, to have An Post commemorate the bicentenary of the birth of Thomas Davis by issuing a commemorative stamp in 2014. [9892/13]

View answer

Written answers (Question to Communications)

The Special and Commemorative Stamp Programme for 2014, initially approved by Government on 18 December 2012, did not include a stamp to commemorate the bicentenary of the birth of Thomas Davis.

Nevertheless, I am pleased to advise that following reconsideration of the strong case made by the Thomas Davis Commemoration Society Mallow, An Post’s Philatelic Advisory Committee has now recommended, subject to Government approval, the inclusion of a stamp to commemorate the bicentenary of the birth of Thomas Davis.

Mobile Telephony

Questions (114)

Thomas P. Broughan

Question:

114. Deputy Thomas P. Broughan asked the Minister for Communications, Energy and Natural Resources if he will report on the recent 4G spectrum sale which netted €855m for the Exchequer and if the process has been fully concluded; if any decision have been made for the ring-fencing of the money generated by the sale for broadband or other communications and energy projects; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [9919/13]

View answer

Written answers (Question to Communications)

The management of the radio spectrum is a statutory function of the Commission for Communications Regulation (ComReg) under the Communications Regulation Act, 2002 as amended.

ComReg recently announced the winning bidders of its Multi-band Spectrum Auction for the 800, 900 and 1800 MHz bands.

The winning bidders will pay €854.64 million for these spectrum rights, comprising firstly of Upfront Fees amounting to €481.7 million (adjusted as necessary by transitional arrangements) and secondly, Annual Spectrum Usage Fees in the amount of €372.95 million which will be adjusted for inflation and paid in instalments until July 2030. The duration of the licences is to 2030.

I can confirm that ComReg transferred the amount of €450M, which is slightly over 50% of the fees, to the Exchequer on Friday 14th December 2012. The remainder of the fees will be paid on an annual basis over the duration of the terms of the licences.

The Deputy may wish to note that fees received by ComReg for spectrum access are transferred directly to the Exchequer in accordance with provisions of Section 30 of the Communications Regulation Act 2002 as amended and do not come under the control of my Department at any time.

Responsibility for the allocation of Exchequer receipts, including the spectrum receipts, falls within the remit of my colleague the Minister for Finance and is not a matter in which I have any statutory role.

Exploration Licences Approvals

Questions (115)

Pádraig MacLochlainn

Question:

115. Deputy Pádraig Mac Lochlainn asked the Minister for Communications, Energy and Natural Resources if a licensing option has been granted to a company for oil off the County Kerry coast; the stage it is currently at; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [9980/13]

View answer

Written answers (Question to Communications)

I wish to advise the Deputy that nine licensing options were granted to various companies over areas in the Porcupine Basin off the south west coast under the 2011 Atlantic Margin Licensing Round. Details of the authorisations granted together with a map showing the areas involved are available in the latest acreage report and concession map which is published on my Departments website and can be viewed on the following link:

http://www.dcenr.gov.ie/Natural/Petroleum+Affairs+Division/Acreage+and+Activity+Reports/

The licensing options were granted for a period of two years from 1 November 2011 subject to the carrying out of a work programme agreed with my Department. They are preliminary authorisations and are designed to allow companies assess the petroleum potential of an area, generally on the basis of existing data. Drilling is not permitted at the licensing option stage. The holders of the licensing options have a right to apply for a frontier exploration licence over the area concerned and must do so by the end of October this year, or else relinquish the acreage.

In relation to more advanced petroleum exploration off the south west coast the Deputy may wish to know that the holders of Frontier Exploration Licence 3/04, operated by Exxon Mobil Exploration and Production Ireland (Offshore) Ltd. are preparing to drill an exploration well on the Dunquin prospect in the Porcupine Basin later this year.

Social Media Regulation

Questions (116, 135)

Michael McGrath

Question:

116. Deputy Michael McGrath asked the Minister for Communications, Energy and Natural Resources the action he and his Department can take to help the estimated one in four pupils here, aged nine to sixteen years, who have experienced cyberbullying; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [10067/13]

View answer

Seán Fleming

Question:

135. Deputy Sean Fleming asked the Minister for Communications, Energy and Natural Resources his views on whether self-regulation can be adequate with regard to the internet; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [10078/13]

View answer

Written answers (Question to Communications)

I propose to take Questions Nos. 116 and 135 together.

As the Deputies will be aware, Social Media are online platforms that allow people create, share and exchange information, and to comment amongst themselves in virtual communities and networks. To date, these media have not been subject to a formal regulatory regime akin to that used to ‘regulate’ traditional radio and television broadcast media, either in Ireland or in other jurisdictions. There is a range of reasons for this, not least the rapidly evolving nature of the technologies involved, the sensitivities around regulating media and the multi-jurisdictional nature of the Internet.

It is important to acknowledge the economic and social benefits that the widespread use of social media have brought to people, communities and to business. However, some of the issues that have arisen as a consequence of this bear consideration. These challenges include dealing with harassment and bullying online, as well as issues around defamation, data protection and even copyright.

There has been a very considerable amount of discussion on these matters in the recent past at EU and Council of Europe level, in which my Department has been involved. Indeed this matter is also the subject of a fundamental debate at EU and national level at present, a fact reflected by the recent decision of the Joint Oireachtas Committee to examine the issue.

As Minister for Communications, Energy and Natural Resources, I have policy responsibility for providing a supportive legislative and regulatory environment to facilitate the development of high quality communications infrastructure and services. However, I should highlight that I do not have sole responsibility for addressing as to how that infrastructure is used. Responsibility, in the context of abuse over the Internet in particular, also sits with the Minister for Justice and Equality, and the executive agency of his Department, the Office for Internet Safety.

It is clear that there are no simple answers to the challenges posed by the development and abuse of social media, not least because of the international basis of the services and because any possible policy responses fall across a range of Government Departments. In recognition of this complexity my Department maintains open and regular contact with all Departments and State Agencies with responsibilities in this area.

My Department also monitors international developments with a view to ensuring that domestic policy within its remit reflects best practice and that the regulatory framework is amended as necessary. In that regard, I look forward to the deliberations of the Joint Oireachtas Committee on Transport and Communications, and I also look forward to meeting the Committee on this subject.

Television Licence Fee Collection

Questions (117)

Niall Collins

Question:

117. Deputy Niall Collins asked the Minister for Communications, Energy and Natural Resources when he proposes to introduce a new broadcasting charge; if the revenue from that charge will be confined to one broadcaster only; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [10059/13]

View answer

Written answers (Question to Communications)

The Programme for Government commits to examining the role and collection of the TV licence fee in light of existing and projected convergence of technologies and to transforming the TV licence into a household based Public Broadcasting Charge to be applied to all eligible households and applicable businesses, regardless of the device used to access content or services.

In line with this commitment, my Department is involved in the ongoing analysis and policy development work that is necessary in advance of the implementation of any changes that may be required.

Although subject to a degree of evasion, the existing TV licence fee system has provided a stable funding base for our public service broadcasters. The rationale for providing State funding for public service broadcasting is to provide an independent and reliable income flow that allows these corporations to attain their public service objects while ensuring they can maintain editorial independence. This is especially important in the context of news and current affairs.

The overall aim of Public Service Broadcasting is to provide services and content which cater for all interests in society, while ensuring that the varied elements of Irish culture and its intrinsic values are protected. Through the obligations placed on the Public Service Broadcasters, which are established in legislation passed by the Oireachtas, and the criteria set for the funding of content through the Sound & Vision Scheme, the production of quality indigenous programming and the production of minority interest programming is strongly promoted.

Whatever the system of funding, the rationale for providing funding will continue to apply and any changes that may be implemented must continue to provide a secure funding base for public service broadcasting and content.

It is also important, of course, that any changes to the system of funding should take account of the reality of new mechanisms to access such content and services and the pervasiveness of such content in today’s society.

Publicly-funded public service broadcasting and content are now available to everyone on an ever-increasing range of platforms and devices and, in fact, access is not dependent on the ownership of a device. In short, everyone benefits from the availability of these services, regardless of how content is accessed or relayed to the public, and, therefore, it is my view that the cost should be borne by society as a whole.

The replacement of the existing funding system based on the collection of television licence fees with one based on the imposition of device-independent charge on eligible households and businesses is a complex process and the logistics involved require thorough attention. Issues such as identifying the most appropriate collection method, exemptions and enforcement mechanics require detailed consideration and all have a bearing on the timeframe for implementation.

My Department is currently carrying out a Value for Money Policy Review conducted by an independently chaired group on the proposed policy. I expect to receive a copy of the group’s recommendations and report for my consideration by the end of March.

Revenue accruing from the introduction of any such charge would serve to fund public service broadcasting in the State, funding for which is currently provided to RTÉ, TG4 and also to independent broadcasters through the Sound and Vision fund operated by the Broadcasting Authority of Ireland. As the Deputy will be aware, the Programme for Government also commits to review the funding of independent broadcasters to ensure a healthy broadcasting environment in Ireland and work is ongoing in this regard.

Television Licence Fee Collection

Questions (118)

Dara Calleary

Question:

118. Deputy Dara Calleary asked the Minister for Communications, Energy and Natural Resources his plans to replace the television licence; the number of other EU Member States that impose such a charge in order to provide revenues to a commercial broadcaster; the way charges here compare in real terms with charges in other countries; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [10074/13]

View answer

Written answers (Question to Communications)

The Programme for Government commits to examining the role and collection of the TV licence fee in light of existing and projected convergence of technologies and to transforming the TV licence into a household based Public Broadcasting Charge to be applied to all eligible households and applicable businesses, regardless of the device used to access content or services.

In line with this commitment, my Department is involved in the ongoing analysis and policy development work that is necessary in advance of the implementation of any changes that may be required.

Although subject to a degree of evasion, the existing TV licence fee system has provided a stable funding base for our public service broadcasters. The rationale for providing State funding for public service broadcasting is to provide an independent and reliable income flow that allows these corporations to attain their public service objects while ensuring they can maintain editorial independence. This is especially important in the context of news and current affairs.

The overall aim of Public Service Broadcasting is to provide services and content which cater for all interests in society, while ensuring that the varied elements of Irish culture and its intrinsic values are protected. Through the obligations placed on the Public Service Broadcasters, which are established in legislation passed by the Oireachtas, and the criteria set for the funding of content through the Sound & Vision Scheme, the production of quality indigenous programming and the production of minority interest programming is strongly promoted.

Whatever the system of funding, the rationale for providing funding will continue to apply and any changes that may be implemented must continue to provide a secure funding base for public service broadcasting and content.

It is also important, of course, that any changes to the system of funding should take account of the reality of new mechanisms to access such content and services and the pervasiveness of such content in today’s society.

Publicly-funded public service broadcasting and content are now available to everyone on an ever-increasing range of platforms and devices and, in fact, access is not dependent on the ownership of a device. In short, everyone benefits from the availability of these services, regardless of how content is accessed or relayed to the public, and, therefore, it is my view that the cost should be borne by society as a whole.

The replacement of the existing funding system based on the collection of television licence fees with one based on the imposition of device-independent charge on eligible households and businesses is a complex process and the logistics involved require thorough attention. Issues such as identifying the most appropriate collection method, exemptions and enforcement mechanics require detailed consideration and all have a bearing on the timeframe for implementation.

My Department is currently carrying out a Value for Money Policy Review conducted by an independently chaired group on the proposed policy. I expect to receive a copy of the recommendations of the Value for Money Policy Review Group by the end of March.

Research undertaken prior to the establishment of the Group indicates that charges in other jurisdictions vary, for a variety of reasons, including what the charge is levied on and the method of collection, for example. National characteristics affect the model adopted, making it impossible to compare ‘like for like’ in terms of fees and charges and also in terms of the conditions attaching to the distribution of funding. I will revert to the Deputy in due course in relation to his specific queries on other jurisdictions.

Prospecting Licences

Question No. 120 answered with Question No. 108.

Question No. 121 answered with Question No. 110.

Questions (119)

Martin Ferris

Question:

119. Deputy Martin Ferris asked the Minister for Communications, Energy and Natural Resources if companies (details supplied) hold a petroleum prospecting licence; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [9977/13]

View answer

Written answers (Question to Communications)

The three companies mentioned by the Deputy were awarded onshore Licensing Options in February 2011 for a period of two years from 1 March 2011 to 28 February 2013. While applications for petroleum prospecting licences were submitted by the three companies, no such authorisations were granted due to the limited nature of the work programmes to be carried out under the licensing options.

Question No. 120 answered with Question No. 108.
Question No. 121 answered with Question No. 110.

Electromagnetic Fields Studies

Questions (122)

Clare Daly

Question:

122. Deputy Clare Daly asked the Minister for Communications, Energy and Natural Resources if he will provide the east west interconnector electromagnetic field emission measurements under assessment by the independent expert panel and a schedule of dates when the panel's report will be published. [9984/13]

View answer

Written answers (Question to Communications)

The East West Interconnector is a strategically vital energy project for the island of Ireland and is financially supported under the European Energy Programme for Recovery.

The Interconnector will bring many benefits to Irish electricity consumers over the decades to come, benefits such as increased competition, secure supplies of energy and the opportunity to export indigenous renewable energy.

While responsibility for non-ionising radiation lies with the Minister for Environment, Community and Local Government, I agreed with the Minister for Health, Dr James Reilly, TD, to the appointment of an independent expert panel. That panel was mandated to consider and comment on data and report on Electro Magnetic Field (EMF) emissions in relation to the East West Interconnector (EWIC) electricity cables. The independent panel comprises three experts; an expert in epidemiology (appointed by the Minister for Health); an electrical engineering expert (appointed by me as Minster for Communications, Energy and Natural Resources); and a third member (chosen jointly by both Ministers) who is an acknowledged international expert in high-voltage electricity grid systems. I would emphasise that these are three independent highly qualified experts who will report on and publish their findings on EMF emissions in relation to the EWIC.

The independent panel met for the first time on Friday, 23 November 2012. The work programme of the panel is being progressed and further meetings are planned throughout the course of 2013. It is anticipated that once the panel has considered and commented on the first sets of data, those datasets and commentary will be made publicly available.

As the Deputy is no doubt aware, arising out of the High Court proceedings taken in respect of the EWIC, Mr Justice Peart, held in July 2012 that the Interconnector was not operating outside its planning approval and dismissed the action. The Judge stated that there was a “complete absence of any evidence of health risks associated with the Interconnector”. However, my Department will continue to facilitate the work of the independent expert panel in fulfilling its mandate.

Broadcasting Legislation

Questions (123, 137, 143)

John Browne

Question:

123. Deputy John Browne asked the Minister for Communications, Energy and Natural Resources the key measures that will be contained in the forthcoming broadcasting legislation; when he expects to publish this legislation; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [10056/13]

View answer

Willie O'Dea

Question:

137. Deputy Willie O'Dea asked the Minister for Communications, Energy and Natural Resources his priorities for new broadcasting legislation; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [10083/13]

View answer

Seamus Kirk

Question:

143. Deputy Seamus Kirk asked the Minister for Communications, Energy and Natural Resources when he will bring forward new broadcasting legislation; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [10089/13]

View answer

Written answers (Question to Communications)

I propose to take Questions Nos. 123, 137 and 143 together.

I have no plans currently to introduce broadcasting legislation.

There are several areas of broadcasting policy which are actively being considered by my Department, including most specifically the question of a broadcasting charge to replace the existing method of funding public service broadcasting. When due consideration has been given to these issues and decisions have been made on policy, legislative measures will follow as appropriate.

Broadband Services Provision

Questions (124)

Peadar Tóibín

Question:

124. Deputy Peadar Tóibín asked the Minister for Communications, Energy and Natural Resources when he will review the spectrum policy; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [9971/13]

View answer

Written answers (Question to Communications)

As Minister with overall responsibility for spectrum policy, I am committed to ensuring that our National spectrum resource is assigned and used effectively. The day to day management of spectrum is a matter for ComReg. Spectrum is used for a variety of purposes and its value to society and the economy are demonstrated clearly in the most recent multiband spectrum auction by ComReg and in the successful Digital TV Switchover last year.

The National Broadband Plan, which was published in August 2012, outlined the Government’s commitment to reviewing and updating spectrum policy on a consultative basis.

This review, which will include revising and up-dating the Wireless Telegraphy Act 1926, is scheduled to commence in the second half of 2013. I intend that this will be a comprehensive review and will include a public consultation process. I hope to be in a position to issue a policy paper, in this regard, in early 2014 with any new legislative measures being dealt with subsequently.

Broadband Services Expenditure

Questions (125, 146)

Billy Kelleher

Question:

125. Deputy Billy Kelleher asked the Minister for Communications, Energy and Natural Resources his views on the necessary investment required in fibre broadband here to be competitive; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [10062/13]

View answer

Willie O'Dea

Question:

146. Deputy Willie O'Dea asked the Minister for Communications, Energy and Natural Resources the amount of investment in fibre broadband that will be required to achieve the targets set out in the national broadband plan; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [10086/13]

View answer

Written answers (Question to Communications)

I propose to take Questions Nos. 125 and 146 together.

Approximately €1bn is being invested in Ireland by existing companies in fibre infrastructure which will deliver broadband speeds of 30Mbps to 150Mbps to most homes and businesses. This investment will provide significant choice to the consumer.

While fibre to the home (FTTH) is currently not widely available to householders in Ireland, broadband networks which are serviced by fibre are increasingly providing high speed services to the home. 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 by December 2014. 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 to homes and multi dwelling units (MDUs). UPC aims to have this service available to 700,000 homes by 2015.

- BT is trialling Fibre to the Cabinet technologies that will deliver broadband at up to 80Mbps. BT provides this infrastructure to Vodafone and Sky.

- Mobile telecommunications operators will be rolling out advanced mobile broadband products in 2013, following the recent multi-band spectrum auction. With the explosion in the use of smart phones and tablet devices, the use of advanced mobile broadband is of increasing significance and it is expected that fibre connections will be required to service many of the base stations that transmit mobile signals.

Many of these developments were signalled in the Government’s National Broadband Plan, which I published in August last. The commercial market operators indicated that they expect to provide 70Mbps to 100Mbps services to 50% of the population by 2015. 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 have a broadband connection which meets their needs to interact effectively with society and business.

In this context, the Government is committed to the delivery of the speeds referred to in the Plan, to ensure that all parts of Ireland will have at least 30Mbps connectivity.