Regulation of the electronic communications market, including the gathering of market data and publication of national statistical reports, is the responsibility of the Commission for Communications Regulation (ComReg). ComReg, has established a callcosts website www.callcosts.ie which provides information to the public on the alternative broadband services marketed by competing service providers on a county by county basis. ComReg does not collect or publish data on available broadband speeds on a regional or county-by-county basis.
The ESRI published a working paper last year, based on the callcosts data, which compared median broadband speeds marketed by county across Ireland. The report concluded, among other things, that there were variations in broadband speeds within counties, especially in more rural areas of the country. It concludes that variations in access to higher broadband speeds is more likely to be a consequence of residing in an urban, suburban or rural area.
Therefore, when making comparisons with other countries, care needs to be taken to compare like with like. The OECD, for example, publishes rankings of states by reference to the highest marketed speed and averages of marketed speeds. The recent launch of a broadband speed of 200 Mbps in Ireland by a cable operator will improve Ireland's standing in terms of both highest and average broadband speeds offered in the market in such international comparisons. These comparisons do not however compare the penetration levels at those speeds within any state.
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.
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. The State can only intervene to ensure access to broadband services in areas where the competitive market fails to deliver such services. 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 ongoing. 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 and the National Digital Strategy, 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.