The Digital Agenda for Europe set out specific targets for the achievement of high speed broadband services across all Member States. Ireland'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:
(a) by providing a policy and regulatory framework that assists in accelerating and incentivising commercial investment, and
(b) 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. 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 150Mbps 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. The National Broadband Plan commits the Government to investing with the private sector to deliver high speed services to areas, which are not commercially viable and will not be provided by the market alone.
In order to progress the State-led investment, a full procurement process must be designed and EU State Aids approval must be obtained. My Department has recently launched a formal mapping exercise, the results of which 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 envisaged 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.
It is the case, in Europe and elsewhere that all countries are seeking solutions to the challenge of rolling out quality broadband services. A study published by the EU Commission in June last, based on data gathered in March 2012, compares marketed headline broadband speeds to the speeds experienced by users over cable, fibre and fixed lines in the EU 28, Iceland and Norway, found that the average download speed accessed in Ireland was above the EU average of 19.47 Mbps or 74% of marketed speeds. It is difficult however, to draw definitive conclusions on inter-country comparisons because of the range of variables in identifying actual, marketed speeds and locations.
I can however, assure the Deputy that the Government is committed to increasing the availability countrywide of quality next generation broadband services through the implementation of the National Broadband Plan. This will ensure that citizens or businesses, wherever they are located, can avail of a broadband connection which meets their needs to interact effectively with society and business in a global digital environment.