I propose to take Questions Nos. 160, 162 and 163 together.
Since market liberalisation in 1999, the provision of telecommunications services, including broadband services are delivered in the first instance through private sector operators who operate in a fully liberalised market, regulated by the independent regulator, the Commission for Communications Regulation (ComReg). The market has 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 including Counties Kerry and Westmeath can be found on a number of websites, including the websites of individual commercial operators.
I am aware of at least one service provider announcing that it will be providing advanced broadband services in 33 locations in County Kerry, and in 19 locations in County Westmeath, before July 2016 and my Department will be happy to discuss this further with the Deputies. I would point out that the Local Authority has a strong role to play in facilitating the roll-out of the necessary infrastructure to help enable service availability throughout the Country. In the case of County Kerry, I note that the County Development Plan recommends against siting a mast within 1km of dwellings. I understand that this is contributing to difficulties in providing broadband and telecommunications services generally in the county.
During the preparation of the Next Generation Broadband Task force report, which concluded its deliberations in 2012, service providers noted the importance of planning and consent processes in facilitating the roll out of infrastructure to support the provision of telecommunications services. The Government's National Broadband Plan which I subsequently published, commits to addressing barriers to deployment in order to maximise investment by the commercial sector and assist in enhancing the quality of services. Local Authorities have an important role to play in this regard, particularly in facilitating the provision of infrastructure that supports wireless and fixed line services.
The National Broadband Plan 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 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 has been submitted to my Department by a total of 23 operators and the process of analysing the data and supporting information is continuing. The mapping data 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 NGA broadband coverage, along with the Government’s proposals for a State-led intervention to roll out high speed broadband across the country. This map will outline exactly the type of broadband available in Counties Kerry and Westmeath.
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.