Broadband Service Provision

Questions (106)

Michael McCarthy

Question:

106. Deputy Michael McCarthy asked the Minister for Communications, Energy and Natural Resources his plans to upgrade the broadband capability of an area (details supplied) in County Cork; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [23637/14]

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Written answers (Question to Communications)

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 intervention 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. Commercial operators combined have either invested, or committed to invest, over €2 billion in their Irish networks, delivering high speed broadband to homes and businesses. For example:

- Eircom is rolling out a €400 m investment in a Next Generation Access Fibre Network that offers speeds of up to 100Mbps. Service is already available to over 800,000 addresses, with planned coverage to reach 1.4 million addresses by 2016.

- UPC has invested over €500 m in upgrading its cable network. Over 700,000 homes can already access minimum broadband speeds of 120Mbps and up to 200Mbps. Businesses can access speeds of 500Mbps.

- ESB is engaged in a new project allowing a fibre network to be rolled-out on its existing electricity infrastructure. It is understood that discussions between ESB and Vodafone to form a new Joint Venture Company are at an advanced stage. The company has initial plans to construct a fibre network directly to 450,000 premises outside of Dublin and it is expected that details will be announced over the coming weeks.

- Mobile operators have launched 4G high speed mobile broadband services following ComReg’s multiband spectrum auction. There has also been continued investment by all operators in enhancing and broadening 3G services and network improvements.

- Fixed wireless operators are continuing to invest in high speed point-to-point wireless broadband.

- The broadcaster Sky has entered the broadband market, increasing choice for consumers.

Of the estimated 2.3 m premises in Ireland, approximately 1.4 m are expected to be served by these commercial next generation broadband services over the coming years.

This accelerated roll out of high speed services by the commercial sector means that the addressable area required by the State intervention has been reduced by 30% since the National Broadband Plan was launched. While the commercial developments are welcome the acceleration of investment is largely contained to cities and towns. The speeds that are available in these areas are demonstrably better than those that are available in more rural areas.

On 25 April, I signalled the Government's commitment to a major telecommunications network build-out to rural Ireland, with fibre as the foundation of its investment under the National Broadband Plan. This commitment is a clear expression of Government’s determination to address the connectivity challenge in rural Ireland in a meaningful and sustainable way.

Central to the strategy will be a fibre build-out to locations in every county in the State identified as having no existing or planned enabling fibre network. It is intended that the fibre will be delivered directly to access points for homes and businesses, where service providers can utilise the fibre to provide high speed services to end users. The fibre build-out will also ensure that fibre is deployed to strategic locations on each route such as schools, business hubs and health facilities. The fibre build out will be part of an end-to-end strategy that will address all parts of Ireland that cannot access commercial high speed broadband services.

I have published a county-by-county list of towns and villages which have already been identified for a fibre build-out. This is an indicative list and is subject to the completion of the comprehensive mapping process currently underway. Further locations may be identified as this process continues. Similarly, it may be determined that some locations on the list will be addressed by the commercial sector and will therefore not require State intervention. Currently I envisage that a total of 108 areas in County Cork will be included in the proposed fibre build-out, including the area of Dromore. The list is available on my Department's website www.dcenr.gov.ie .

In tandem with the fibre build-out, the Strategy will include measures to respond to aggregated community demand for services, and the provision of access services in the most remote areas where fibre rollout may be insufficient to stimulate commercial investment or may be cost-prohibitive.

Intensive design work is ongoing in the Department with a view to publishing an end-to-end implementation strategy later this year, together with the outcome of the mapping exercise which will identify the areas that require intervention. A full public consultation will take place once the strategy is published and EU State Aids clearance will be required for the intervention strategy once finalised. It is expected that the detailed procurement process will take place in 2015 with a view to commencing construction of the fibre network and provision of services in the areas that require intervention as quickly as possible.

I fully share the concerns of local representatives about the quality of broadband in rural areas. I intend to ensure that rural Ireland enjoys similar opportunities to urban areas by ensuring an end-to end market intervention with fibre as a core component. In committing to a fibre build-out at the heart of this strategy, the Government is acknowledging that broadband is the key infrastructure of the 21st century.

Postal Services

Questions (107)

Denis Naughten

Question:

107. Deputy Denis Naughten asked the Minister for Communications, Energy and Natural Resources if he will amend the current postal services Acts to introduce a public service obligation on An Post to maintain a minimum level of service to rural communities by providing a geographical spread of sub post offices; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [23785/14]

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Written answers (Question to Communications)

An Post is statutorily required under the Communications Regulation (Postal Services) Act 2011 to provide a universal postal service. The Act charges the Commission for Communications Regulation (ComReg), as the postal regulator, with the promotion of the development of the postal sector, particularly the availability of the universal postal service, the promotion of the interests of users and the facilitation of the development of competition in the sector. While the aim of the universal postal service is to ensure that all users have reasonable access to a minimum range of services of specified quality and at an affordable price, the manner in which this is to be achieved is a matter for An Post subject, of course, to appropriate regulatory oversight by ComReg in accordance with the provisions of the Act. An Post, when coming to a decision in relation to post offices in the network, takes into account a number of factors one of which, consistent with the universal service obligation, is customer access to services elsewhere in a geographic region.

Matters relating to the post office network, including the opening and closing of post offices, are an operational matter for the management and Board of An Post and one in which I have no statutory function.

Broadband Service Provision

Questions (108)

Finian McGrath

Question:

108. Deputy Finian McGrath asked the Minister for Communications, Energy and Natural Resources the position regarding resolving a broadband problem and the problems with Dublin City Council in an area (details supplied) in Dublin 5. [23823/14]

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Written answers (Question to Communications)

Issues regarding problems with contracted broadband services are a matter, in the first instance, between an individual and their service provider. Failing a resolution an individual may wish to escalate any complaint to ComReg which offers an independent complaint handling procedure for customers of telecommunications service providers. Any issues pertaining to Dublin City Council are a matter for the City Council itself or for the Minister for the Environment, Community and Local Government.

Energy Usage

Questions (109)

Seán Kyne

Question:

109. Deputy Seán Kyne asked the Minister for Communications, Energy and Natural Resources the progress of the Energy (Miscellaneous Provisions) (Smart Metering) Bill 2014; if this Bill will see a comprehensive roll out of smart metering; and his views on whether the introduction of smart metering could provide a mechanism for ensuring that mirco-generators of electricity through renewable means, including schools, small businesses and community organisations and realise the full value of the electricity produced. [23951/14]

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Written answers (Question to Communications)

Smart metering marks a new development on the path towards greater consumer empowerment in the electricity supply and gas supply markets by allowing consumers to monitor their energy consumption in real time, thereby providing them with greater control over their energy bills. The National Smart Metering Programme is a central component of the Government’s strategy to enhance management of energy demand, deliver smart networks and enable greater energy efficiency. It is also aligned with EU obligations on Member States under the Energy Efficiency Directive to progress smart metering. The national roll-out of Smart Meters has been assigned to the Commission for Energy Regulation (CER). A major programme of technology and user trials showed that a national rollout of Smart Meters could lead to reductions in overall electricity and gas consumption, as well as an 8.8% reduction in peak-time electricity consumption. Following the successful completion of these trials by the CER a decision to proceed to the design of the National Smart Metering Programme was taken in 2012. Subject to completion of the design work, which is currently underway, the building and testing of the smart meters infrastructure and confirmation that the programme continues to be justified on cost/benefit grounds, it is expected that smart meters will be rolled out nationally between 2016 and 2019.

The rollout of the National Smart Metering Programme will require legal underpinning. This will be facilitated either by way of the Energy (Miscellaneous Provisions) (Smart Metering) Bill 2014 or, as an alternative, by transposition of the Energy Efficiency Directive. If the legal basis can be incorporated in the transposition of the Energy Efficiency Directive, this would remove the need for a separate piece of primary legislation. The optimal legal approach is currently under consideration by my Department in consultation with the Attorney General’s Office.

One of the objectives of the National Smart Metering Programme is to support renewable energy and facilitate wider take up of micro-generation. To this end, the design of the National Smart Metering Programme will cater for micro generation metering data. However, the offering of a tariff for micro-generation is a commercial decision for electricity suppliers.

Social and Affordable Housing Provision

Questions (110)

Maureen O'Sullivan

Question:

110. Deputy Maureen O'Sullivan asked the Minister for the Environment, Community and Local Government the way the Construction 2020 plan will contribute to the social housing needs; the way the plan will stimulate construction of social housing units in order to alleviate the housing crisis, particularly in Dublin; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [23829/14]

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Written answers (Question to Environment)

On 14 May, 2014 the Government published Construction 2020 – A Strategy for a Renewed Construction Sector. The strategy contains 75 Actions in total and my Department, together with the Housing Agency, will be involved in the delivery of a significant number of these.

Under Action 8 of Construction 2020, a Social Housing Strategy is to be published by Q3 2014, setting out a vision for the sector and identifying specific measures to enhance the delivery of social housing. To assist in the development of the Social Housing Strategy, the Housing Agency has invited submissions from stakeholders and indeed members of the public.

It is clear that the present and foreseeable economic context in which we must address social housing need is such that innovative, and indeed challenging, solutions must be found which will harness new funding streams. While the local authorities will continue to have the lead role in addressing social housing need, in their capacity as statutory housing authorities, the growing role of the not-for-profit sector, as represented by the Approved Housing Bodies, and other potential investors must also be further developed. My intention is that the Strategy will be both challenging and innovative, and will provide the basis for an enhanced approach to social housing provision in Ireland. It will contain clear measurable actions that are to be taken to increase the supply of social housing and, most importantly, reduce the number of people on waiting lists over the next five years.

Rental Accommodation Scheme Administration

Questions (111)

Finian McGrath

Question:

111. Deputy Finian McGrath asked the Minister for the Environment, Community and Local Government the rights those on the rental accommodation scheme have when their landlords want them to move out; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [23656/14]

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Written answers (Question to Environment)

Accommodation provided under the Rental Accommodation Scheme is governed by the terms of the Residential Tenancies Act 2004, as amended. The grounds upon which a tenancy in the private rented residential sector may be legally terminated are clearly set out in the 2004 Act. The Act provides the main regulatory framework for the private rented residential sector and provides for security of tenure. It also specifies minimum obligations for landlords and tenants under a tenancy.

Under the terms of the scheme, local authorities retain the responsibility to source further accommodation for a RAS household should the dwelling that the household is living in become unavailable through no fault of their own.

Household Charge Exemptions

Questions (112)

Tony McLoughlin

Question:

112. Deputy Tony McLoughlin asked the Minister for the Environment, Community and Local Government the reason an estate (details supplied) in County Sligo is not exempt from the local household charge; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [23737/14]

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Written answers (Question to Environment)

The Local Government (Household Charge) Act 2011 provides the legislative basis for the household charge. Under the Act, an owner of a residential property on the liability date of 1 January 2012 is liable to pay the household charge, unless otherwise exempted or entitled to claim a waiver.

  Section 4(4)(b) and section 4(6) of the Act provide that a waiver from the charge applies in 2012 and 2013 to properties in certain unfinished housing estates specified in a list prescribed by the Minister. As part of the process of preparing the National Housing Development Survey 2011, published by my Department in October 2011, local authorities provided details of all unfinished housing developments in their areas. Unfinished housing developments were divided into four categories as follows:

- Category one, where the development is still being actively completed by the developer, or where no serious public safety issues exist;

- Category two, where a receiver has been appointed;

- Category three, where a receiver has not been appointed and the developer is still in place but effectively inactive; and

- Category four, where the development has been effectively abandoned and is posing serious problems for residents.

Only households in developments in categories three and four are eligible for the waiver from payment of the household charge. The development in question was categorised by Sligo County Council as a Category 1 development and as such was not eligible for a waiver from the household charge. The list of developments in which households are eligible for the waiver is set out under the Local Government (Household Charge)(Amendment) Regulations 2013.

Private Residential Tenancies Board

Questions (113)

Joan Collins

Question:

113. Deputy Joan Collins asked the Minister for the Environment, Community and Local Government regarding the Private Residential Tenancies Board rent controls study, the date on which the study commenced; the specific terms of reference; the person conducting the study; and when it is due to be published. [23753/14]

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Written answers (Question to Environment)

The Private Residential Tenancies Board (PRTB) was established as an independent statutory body under the Residential Tenancies Act 2004. The primary functions of the Board are to operate a national tenancy registration system and to resolve disputes between landlords and tenants in the private rented residential sector. In accordance with the Act, the Board also has functions regarding research into the private rented sector and the provision of information to the Minister on matters related to the sector.

In the context of increasing rents, especially in the Dublin area, I asked the PRTB to carry out a focused piece of research to explore options to address the difficulties being experienced in segments of the private rented sector. Contracts for the study were awarded last month and the terms of reference for the study will be published in the coming days at www.prtb.ie.

My Department understands the study will be broadly based and will examine a range of topics including:

- the current tax treatment of the rental sector;

- rent supplement and possible incentives for landlords to rent to social rented tenants;

- the pros and cons of different approaches to the regulation of rent increases within a tenancy;

- scenario testing of possible approaches to rent regulation;

- lessons from other countries with a developed private rented sector with rent certainty and stability;

- proposals in relation to both short-term and medium to long-term strategies to achieve greater rental stability and certainty;

- advice on the basis under which any changes might be introduced and/or operate;

- an indication of the likely costs of any measures proposed.

I have asked the PRTB to report back to me with policy recommendations before the end of June.