Considerable progress has been made in recent years in both the coverage and speeds of national broadband infrastructure, with a multiplicity of commercial operators providing services over a diverse range of technology platforms. The Government has also undertaken a number of initiatives to bring broadband to those parts of the country where commercial operators have been unable to offer services. The combination of private investment and State interventions such as the National Broadband Scheme means that Ireland has met the EU Commission's Digital Agenda for Europe target of having a basic broadband services available to all areas by 2013. Accordingly, every citizen should have access to at least a basic broadband service.
The Government's National Broadband Plan, which I published in August 2012, aims to radically change the broadband landscape in Ireland by ensuring that high speed broadband is available to all citizens and businesses. This will be achieved by providing:
- a policy and regulatory framework that assists in accelerating and incentivising commercial investment, and
- a State-led investment for areas where it is not commercial for the market to invest.
In order to progress the State-led investment for areas where it is not commercial for the market to invest, a full procurement process must be designed and EU State Aids approval must be obtained. My Department is engaged in a comprehensive mapping exercise of the current and anticipated investment by the commercial sector to identify where the market is expected to deliver high speed broadband services over the coming years. The results of this mapping exercise will inform the precise areas that need to be targeted in the State-led investment as envisaged in the National Broadband Plan. Intensive technical, financial and legal preparations, including stakeholder engagement, are on-going. The procurement process for the approved intervention will be carried out in accordance with EU and Irish procurement rules and it is expected that it will be launched in 2014.
Through the implementation of the National Broadband Plan, I am committed to ensuring that all parts of Ireland have access to high speed broadband, with a view to ensuring that all citizens and businesses can participate fully in, and maximise the benefits of a digitally enabled economy and society. While all citizens should now have access to at least a basic broadband service, statistics show that some 65% of households have a broadband subscription. This highlights the need for the range of demand-led measures contained in the recently-published National Digital Strategy.