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Telecommunications Services Provision

Dáil Éireann Debate, Wednesday - 26 October 2016

Wednesday, 26 October 2016

Questions (20)

Bernard Durkan

Question:

20. Deputy Bernard J. Durkan asked the Minister for Communications, Climate Action and Environment the progress made in the provision of high quality modern telecommunications such as broadband and mobile telephony in all areas throughout the country; the action being taken to ensure a quality of service here equal to the best globally; if regulation of the mobile telephone network can be invigorated to ensure the services are working to optimum efficiency and quality, with high quality and high speed broadband to become the norm rather than the exception; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [32055/16]

View answer

Oral answers (6 contributions) (Question to Communications)

The question encompasses two telecommunications issues, broadband services and mobile telephone services in both urban and rural areas. I encourage the Minister to elucidate further on his targets for broadband provision and the quality and extent of the service provided by mobile telephone operators.

The Deputy is getting value for money from his question.

The national broadband plan aims to make high speed broadband available to all premises in Ireland through investment by commercial companies and a State intervention in areas where a commercial investment has not been fully demonstrated.

In December 2015 the procurement for the State intervention commenced.  It aims to deliver networks with at least 30 Mbps download and 6 Mbps upload speeds to all premises within the intervention area.  Intensive dialogue with bidders is continuing and the three bidders have indicated that they are proposing a predominantly fibre-to-the-home solution.  Householders and businesses will get speeds not just of 30 Mbps but potentially 1,000 Mbps, with businesses potentially availing of symmetrical upload and download speeds.

In accordance with commitments in A Programme for a Partnership Government, the Minister for Arts, Heritage, Rural, Regional and Gaeltacht Affairs is leading in the establishment of two regional action groups to help to accelerate the broadband network build in rural Ireland, once contracts have been awarded.

The commercial telecommunications sector has invested more than €2 billion in upgrading and modernising networks which support the provision of high speed broadband and mobile telecommunications services.  Approximately 1.3 million premises in Ireland can now get high speed broadband and at least one mobile operator is delivering 4G services to more than 90% of the population.

In July I established a mobile telephone and broadband task force with my colleague, the Minister for Arts, Heritage, Rural, Regional and Gaeltacht Affairs, to address immediate issues related to the quality of mobile telephone and broadband coverage. I expect the task force to report by the end of 2016.

In addition, I recently signed regulations allowing ComReg to proceed with an early 2017 auction of the 3.6 GHz radio spectrum band, to provide for an 86% increase in the total spectrum available for mobile and fixed wireless services.

I have also secured €8 million for RTE in my Department's Estimate for 2017 which will allow it to free up the 700 MHz spectrum band.  ComReg expects to auction this spectrum which will provide for significantly enhanced mobile coverage.  The 700 MHz band is particularly suited to rural environments as the signal can travel long distances.  I also intend to discuss with ComReg the possibility of including elements within the auction process to ensure black spots, particularly in rural areas, will be identified and adequately addressed.

These initiatives should assist in significantly improving the quality of broadband and mobile telephone services across the country, putting Ireland to the forefront internationally in terms of connectivity.

I thank the Minister for his comprehensive reply. To what extent does he expect to compete with best practice internationally when the current investment programme is completed, both in respect of broadband and mobile telephony? The quality of the service provided is embarrassing. Adequate evidence has been available for a long time of the areas with poor service which require urgent upgrading. How is it planned to integrate the new services, when available, with medical and educational services to their mutual benefit?

I would need a week to address that question. We will have the most modern network in the world when the investment programme is completed. The national broadband plan provides that Ireland will be the first country to bring fibre broadband to the home extensively in rural areas. This has not been done anywhere else in the world to date. It will deliver speeds up to 1,000 Mbps to homes and businesses throughout the country.

On mobile telephony services, we intend to use the 700 MHz spectrum to focus on a geographic rather than a population basis. The intention is to roll out 5G mobile services on this spectrum, which will mean that Ireland will probably be one of the first countries in the world to roll it out on this basis. At the conclusion of the investment programme, Ireland will be a world leader in this regard.

We are focused on what we can do practically in the short term, which is why we are not waiting for the mobile phone and broadband task force to complete its report at the end of the year. As suggestions and proposals are made, we are engaging with solutions. I have announced a number of decisions, including the release of the 3.6 GHz spectrum. We will continue to do this between now and the end of the year.

I thank the Minister and congratulate him on his continued perseverance with the investment programme. Will the regulator become more active than in the past, with a view to encouraging service providers to ensure the continued provision of the highest quality service?

Despite numerous attempts to encourage it in the past, it has been impossible for many of us to penetrate the wall of bureaucracy that seems to exist. Accordingly, we end up having extra participants in particular networks, leading to a lower quality of service. Can we be assured this will be addressed in this context?

I am actively engaging with ComReg on these issues. I have got a positive response from ComReg on putting a map in place which would show the 2G, 3G, 4G and, in the future, 5G, coverage available. This would fit in with what we are doing with the national broadband plan and allow people to see what services are available.

Such a service is available in Northern Ireland through Ofcom. People living in Armagh city can see if there is one particular mobile provider they should not use if they want 3G services. People will be able to do that in every single community. We are also working with the mobile providers to see where there are particular blackspots, as well as working with local communities to provide locations for antennae to improve the quality of broadband and mobile services.

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