I propose to take Questions Nos. 26 and 27 together.
Any consents and permissions required for the landing of this cable are a matter for the Company, the Department of Environment, Community and Local Government and the Local Authority. I have no function in that regard.
My Department has secured State Aid approval to bring the telecommunications ducts laid alongside the Galway-Mayo gas pipeline into use. A project has commenced to test these ducts with a view to bringing them into use as soon as possible. It is envisaged that fibre in these ducts will be available to commercial service providers in areas where next generation access is not currently available. It is intended that a number of interconnection points will be provided which will allow network operators to bring connectivity from neighbouring towns to this fibre. The ducts may also be used to facilitate interconnectivity projects such as that proposed by Emerald Express.
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.
In tandem with these 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 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 over the coming years, the results of which will inform the 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. Issues regarding obligations which might be placed on any potential contractor to be engaged as a result of the procurement process will be considered as part of the detailed design of the intervention. It is my intention to publish the map showing existing and planned next generation broadband coverage, along with the Government's proposals for the intervention, later this year. 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 later in 2014.
I am aware that at least one commercial operator has launched next generation broadband services in Mayo, and announced plans to bring these services to additional towns over the next two years. Through the combination of commercial investment, the State led investment envisaged in the National Broadband Plan and the initiative to bring the Galway-Mayo ducting into use I am confident that the towns of Killala, Ballina, Crossmolina, Foxford, Swinford and Belmullet, and all areas across Mayo, will have access to high speed broadband. The ultimate goal is to ensure that all citizens and businesses participate fully in a digitally enabled economy and society. I believe that all these developments will enhance the availability of broadband in Mayo.