I propose to take Questions Nos. 407 and 411 together.
Ireland's telecommunications market has been fully liberalised since 1999 in accordance with the requirements of binding EU Directives. The market has since developed into a well-regulated market, supporting a multiplicity of commercial operators, providing services over a diverse range of technology platforms. Details of broadband services available in each County can be found on a number of websites, including ComReg's website at www.callcosts.ie as well as the websites of individual commercial operators.
The State only becomes involved in investing in the provision of broadband services in instances of clear market failure, such as the case of the National Broadband Scheme (NBS). The broadband service contracted under NBS is a basic, affordable, scalable product in keeping with EU State Aid clearance for the Scheme in September 2007. With basic broadband widely available across Ireland, the focus is now on accelerating the roll out of high speed services.
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 and in some instances have been accelerated in both fixed line and wireless high speed broadband services. These developments have been facilitated through the implementation of measures in the National Broadband Plan, including the conclusion of ComReg's multiband spectrum auction, and the new regulatory regime for fixed line Next Generation Access and service bundles. Both of these measures are designed to incentivise the rollout of services by operators. The ESB Electronic Communications Bill, which I introduced last month, is a further step in promoting investment in competitively priced high speed broadband. The Bill will, when enacted, enable the ESB to utilise its electricity distribution network to provide telecommunications services in the Irish market.
In tandem with these developments, intensive work, including a comprehensive mapping exercise, continues in my Department in relation to the State-led investment to secure the countrywide introduction of next generation broadband access. 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.
Under the national mapping exercise, information has been sought from all undertakings authorised by ComReg in relation to current and planned broadband services, both basic and next generation access (NGA). Mapping data have been submitted to my Department by a total of 23 operators and the process of analysing the data and supporting information is continuing. In many cases, this includes follow-up queries and requests for further information. The mapping data are being assessed on a case-by-case basis, having regard to the EU State Aid Guidelines. When all of the information has been analysed, a clear picture should emerge of coverage throughout all of the country. When this process is complete, it is my intention to publish a map showing existing and planned NGA broadband coverage, along with the Government's proposals for a State-led intervention to roll out high speed broadband across the country.
My Department has commenced initial engagements with the EU Commission in relation to State Aid Guidelines and the Government's plans to intervene in the market. A formal State Aid notification process will commence when the mapping has been completed and the level of intervention required has been identified.
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, 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.