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 30Mbps are available to all of our citizens and businesses, 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. The Plan aims to deliver high speed broadband to all parts of Ireland through two principal means:
- by providing a policy and regulatory framework that assists in accelerating and incentivising commercial investment, and
- by providing a State-led investment for areas where it is not commercial for the market to invest.
Since the publication of the Plan, investments by the commercial sector are underway in both fixed line and wireless high speed broadband services, particularly in urban and semi-urban areas. ComReg has put in place a new regulatory regime for fixed line Next Generation Access and for service bundles, both of which are designed to incentivise the rollout of services by service providers. ComReg’s multiband spectrum auction, completed in 2012, is also enabling the rollout of advanced mobile broadband services.
There is evidence that industry is investing beyond the targets to which they committed in the Plan with investments of up to €1bn underway. Some of the key developments in the short and medium term are as follows:
- eircom launched its next generation broadband services on 16th May last, with speeds of up to 70Mbps, immediately available to over 300,000 premises. By the end of this year, eircom aims to reach more than 600,000 homes and businesses. It has a target to pass 1.2m premises by June 2015.
- UPC is continuing with its investment in the cable network, which should see 750,000 homes able to access services at data speeds of at least 150 Mbps by 2015.
- Other fixed operators also continue to invest in Local Loop Unbundling (LLU). BT Ireland now supplies broadband access to both Vodafone and Sky Ireland, and along with other operators, is also investing in fixed infrastructure.
- Mobile wireless operators are making plans for the rollout of 4G services later this year. The operators are obliged, under the terms of the licences, to cover 70% of the population.
- ESB is currently considering the prospect of utilising its distribution network to rollout fibre broadband services.
In tandem with these commercial developments, intensive work is underway in my Department to progress a State-led investment to secure the countrywide introduction of next generation broadband access.
In order to progress the State-led investment, a full procurement process must be designed and EU State Aids approval must be obtained. My officials have just commenced a comprehensive mapping exercise of the current and anticipated investment by the commercial sector to identify where the market is expected to succeed and fail in the delivery of high speed broadband services over the coming years. The results of this mapping exercise will inform the level of Government interaction that may be required and the areas that need to be targeted in the State-led investment so as to deliver on the targets for high speed broadband contained in the National Broadband Plan. Intensive technical, financial and legal preparations including stakeholder engagement will be ongoing throughout 2013 with a view to the launch of a procurement process in 2014.
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 businesses can participate fully in a digitally enabled society. Implementation of the National Broadband Plan will be complemented by the National Digital Strategy. The first phase of the National Digital Strategy, which I will launch on 11 July next, will target specific segments of society, aiming to improve digital adoption and to realise the economic and social benefits that digital technologies can bring.