The National Broadband Plan (NBP) aims to deliver high speed broadband services to every city, town, village and individual premises in Ireland. The Programme for Government commits to the delivery of the NBP as a matter of priority. This is being achieved through a combination of commercial investment by the telecommunications sector and a State intervention in those areas where commercial investment has not been fully demonstrated.
The High Speed Broadband Map, which is available at www.broadband.gov.ie shows the extent of the State Intervention area:
- The areas marked BLUE represent those areas where commercial telecommunications providers are either currently delivering or have previously indicated plans to deliver high speed broadband services.
- The areas marked AMBER on the High Speed Broadband Map represent the target areas for the State Intervention, which are the subject of the current procurement process. It is intended that premises within this area will have access to services of at least 30Mbps when the procurement process is completed and the network rolled out.
As you will see from the Map Belcarra, County Mayo largely falls within a BLUE area and will be covered by commercial operators. Individuals can check whether their premises is in a BLUE or an AMBER area by accessing the High Speed Broadband Map and entering their Eircode. Based on information provided by one commercial operator I understand that high speed broadband services are available to some 310 premises from the Belcarra exchange and that work on a further 185 premises has been completed and rollout is planned for these premises in early 2017. This is however a matter for the company in question.
While I cannot compel any operator to provide services to a particular premises, the NBP aims to ensure that all premises can access high speed broadband. My Department is therefore closely monitoring the rollout of services in the BLUE area, including Belcarra. I would encourage consumers in Belcarra who cannot access high speed broadband services to contact my Department directly at firstname.lastname@example.org, quoting their address and Eircode, and giving details of providers they have contacted with a view to obtaining services. This information will assist the Department in keeping track of progress in those areas. If it transpires that some premises will not be connected by the commercial telecoms sector, I will consider including them in the procurement process, as part of the State intervention.
My Department is now in the formal procurement process to select a company or companies who will roll-out a new high speed broadband network to over 750,000 premises in Ireland, 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 may get speeds not just of 30 Megabits per second but potentially up to 1000 megabits per second with businesses potentially availing of symmetrical upload and download speeds.
Earlier this year, before I came into office, the Department announced that it would be June 2017 before contract(s) were awarded under the NBP. The bidders in the process have recently indicated that they may need more time to conclude the procurement process. The timing of each stage of the procurement continues to be dependent on a range of factors including the complexities that may be encountered by the procurement team and bidders, during the procurement process. Bidders need adequate time to prepare detailed proposals and their final formal bids. In addition, bidders need adequate time to get the relevant shareholder and funding approvals at key stages of the process. It is also important to ensure that risks in this multi-million euro procurement are carefully managed. I do not propose to comment any further on timelines at this juncture, given that discussions are on-going in the procurement process. I can assure the Deputy, however, that the procurement process is being intensively managed, to ensure an outcome that delivers a future-proofed network that serves homes and businesses across Ireland, for at least 25 years. The Government considers the NBP to be one of the most significant investments in rural Ireland for decades, and one which will transform society, akin to rural electrification in the last century.
During the Department's extensive stakeholder consultations in 2015, telecommunications service providers indicated a 3-5 year timeline to rollout a network of the scale envisaged under the NBP. As part of the competitive process, the Department will engage with winning bidder(s) on the best rollout strategy, in order to target areas of particularly poor service, business needs and/or high demand. This will need to be balanced with the most efficient network rollout plan. A prioritisation programme will be put in place in this regard, in consultation with the Minister for Arts, Heritage, Regional, Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs. A detailed rollout plan for the network will be published once contract(s) are in place.
The Programme for Government also commits to measures to assist in the rollout of the network once a contract is awarded. In this regard, Minister Humphreys is leading on the establishment of two regional action groups, working with Local Authorities, Local Enterprise Offices and other relevant agencies to help accelerate the broadband network build in rural Ireland, once a contract(s) has been awarded.
In a further positive initiative, last July, I established a Mobile Phone and Broadband Taskforce with my colleague Minister Humphreys to address immediate issues in relation to the quality of mobile phone and broadband coverage. I expect the Taskforce to report by end 2016.
I recently signed Regulations allowing ComReg to proceed with an early 2017 auction of the 3.6GHz radio spectrum band, to provide an 86% increase in total spectrum available for mobile and fixed wireless services. I have also secured €8m for RTE which will allow it to free up the 700MHz spectrum band, to provide enhanced mobile services.
In the meantime, my Department continues to liaise closely with industry and relevant other Departments and agencies to assist in the commercial deployment of telecommunications networks. The commercial telecommunications sector has invested over €2bn in upgrading and modernising networks which support the provision of high speed broadband and mobile telecoms services.
These investments will further improve the coverage and quality of broadband and mobile voice and data services throughout the country, including County Mayo.