Tuesday, 1 April 2014

Questions (325, 326)

Michael McNamara


325. Deputy Michael McNamara asked the Minister for Communications, Energy and Natural Resources the position regarding the availability of broadband connectivity in County Clare in relation to the national broadband scheme, the rural broadband scheme, improvement in connection speeds and overall availability in the county resultant from the implementation of these projects; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [14999/14]

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Michael McNamara


326. Deputy Michael McNamara asked the Minister for Communications, Energy and Natural Resources the areas of County Clare that are as of yet unable to access broadband Internet connectivity; if a timeframe exists in which these communities will have access to broadband Internet; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [15000/14]

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Written answers (Question to Communications)

I propose to take Questions Nos. 325 and 326 together.

Since market liberalisation in 1999, broadband services are delivered in the first instance by private sector operators who operate in a fully liberalised market, regulated by the Commission for Communications Regulation (ComReg). Details of broadband services available in each County, including County Clare, 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 can only become involved in the provision of services in instances of clear market failure, such as in the case of the National Broadband Scheme (NBS) and the Rural Broadband Scheme (RBS). My Department entered into a contract in late 2008 with Hutchison 3G Ireland Ltd (“3”) for the delivery of the NBS. The Scheme offers a basic broadband service, in line with EU State aid clearance, to fixed residences and businesses located within certain designated Electoral Divisions. In County Clare, NBS services are available within 49 of its 155 Electoral Divisions.

The Rural Broadband Scheme (RBS) which was launched in 2011 aimed to make a basic broadband service available to individual unserved premises in rural areas, not already covered by the NBS, notwithstanding the widespread availability of broadband throughout Ireland. A total of 155 applicants from County Clare qualified under the Scheme and received offers of service from the service providers participating in the Scheme. Of these, 30 applicants accepted an offer of service. My Department was advised by the participating service providers that they had been unable to provide service to 2 applicants in County Clare. Engineering officials from my Department visited those 2 households in May 2013 and provided advice, having assessed the local topography, on possible terrestrial and satellite providers who could provide a solution. Further information was provided to them in September last and my Department has had no follow-up requests for information or advice.

The combination of private investment and State interventions means that Ireland has met the EU Commission's Digital Agenda for Europe target of having a basic broadband service available to all areas by 2013. With basic broadband services now widely available across Ireland, the challenge is to accelerate 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 including those in County Clare. 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. In addition, the recent enactment of legislation to facilitate the ESB's entry into the telecommunications market, either alone or in partnership with another operator, will also facilitate the roll-out of high speed broadband as well as facilitating greater competition in the Irish market. I am aware of at least one service provider announcing that it will be providing advanced broadband services in 30 locations in County Clare before July 2016 and my Department will be happy to discuss this further with the Deputy.

Many of 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 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, 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, mapping data which has been submitted to my Department by a total of 23 operators is 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. I expect that this process will be completed later this year, after which it is my intention to publish a map showing existing and planned next generation broadband coverage, along with the Government's proposals for a State-led intervention to roll out high speed broadband across the country, including County Clare.

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.

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.