Tuesday, 9 May 2017

Questions (589, 590, 596, 601)

Tom Neville

Question:

589. Deputy Tom Neville asked the Minister for Communications, Climate Action and Environment if there are areas in County Limerick that will come under the new national broadband plan. [22144/17]

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Bernard Durkan

Question:

590. Deputy Bernard J. Durkan asked the Minister for Communications, Climate Action and Environment the extent to which the delivery of broadband nationwide is likely to stop short of some marginal areas; his plans to ensure provision of service to such areas and to put in place the necessary procedures to do so; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [22152/17]

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Bernard Durkan

Question:

596. Deputy Bernard J. Durkan asked the Minister for Communications, Climate Action and Environment if the emerging extended map in regard to the provision of broadband is keeping ahead or short of expectations to date; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [22158/17]

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Bernard Durkan

Question:

601. Deputy Bernard J. Durkan asked the Minister for Communications, Climate Action and Environment the extent to which he has identified the existence of particular black spots throughout the country regarding the availability of broadband services; when he expects such issues to be addressed in full with particular reference to meeting the needs of the business, domestic and commercial sectors; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [22163/17]

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Written answers (Question to Communications)

I propose to take Questions Nos. 589, 590, 596 and 601 together.

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.

A key principle of the NBP is to support and stimulate commercial investment through policy and regulatory measures. Commercial investment since the publication of the NBP has considerably exceeded expectations. To date, the commercial telecommunications sector has invested over €2.5bn in upgrading and modernising networks which support the provision of high speed broadband and mobile telecoms services. 

There has been significant progress in relation to broadband roll-out so that today, approximately 1.4m or 61% of premises in Ireland can get high speed broadband of a minimum of 30 Megabits per second. The NBP has been a catalyst in encouraging investment by the telecoms sector, which is continuing to expand this footprint.

On the 4 April, I signed a commitment agreement with eir in relation to its plans to provide broadband to an additional 300,000 premises in rural areas on a commercial basis.  Eir has committed to concluding this work over a 90 week period, an average of nearly 500 premises per day.  My Department will be monitoring this roll-out to ensure that eir meets its obligations under the Agreement.  A copy of the Commitment Agreement is available on my Department's website. 

Quarterly updates will be published on the Departments website.  The Q1 2017 update will be published shortly and I am pleased to announce that the eir roll-out is in line with the Commitment Agreement.  My Department has informed me that in the period from 1 January to end March 2017, 30,064 premises have been passed. This brings to 40,114 the total subset of the 300k premises that eir has passed since they commenced work in late 2016.  Information on eir's planned rural deployment is available at http://fibrerollout.ie/eircode-lookup/.

On the same day I published an updated High Speed Broadband Map which finalises the State Intervention area.  The updated Map shows the following categories of areas for delivery of broadband: 

- The BLUE areas represent those areas where commercial telecommunications providers are either currently delivering or have indicated plans to deliver high speed broadband services, 

- The AMBER areas on the High Speed Broadband Map represent the areas that will require State Intervention and are the subject of the current procurement process.

It is intended that all premises will have access to services of at least 30 megabits per second when the procurement process is completed and the network rolled out.  

The map provides information on a county by county basis together with a breakdown of coverage across the townlands in Ireland’s 26 counties.  There are c2.3m premises of which c542,000 premises including some 22,000 in County Limerick are located within the AMBER area on the map and will require State Intervention.  The remaining 1.8m  premises including c76,000 premises in Co Limerick  are located in the BLUE areas and will be/are served by commercial operators.  Of the c76,000 premises, c15,000 premises are part of eir’s plans to deliver rural high speed broadband between now and end of 2018.

Individuals can themselves check whether their premises is in a BLUE or an AMBER area by accessing the High Speed Broadband Map and entering their Eircode at www.broadband.gov.ie. Consumers in BLUE areas who cannot access High Speed Broadband are encouraged to notify the Department at NBPBroadband@DCCAE.gov.ie, quoting their eircode.  The Department is working with the operators, the local authorities and other key stakeholders on resolutions for black spot areas. 

A formal procurement process is in train to select a company or companies who will roll-out a new high speed broadband network within the State Intervention Area. 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 finalisation of the State Intervention Area for the procurement process is an important milestone as it means that bidders can progress their business plans and the Department can move to the next stage of the procurement.   The three bidders have indicated that they are proposing a predominantly fibre-to-the-home solution. A fibre-to-the-home solution means that householders and businesses may get speeds not just of 30 Megabits per second but much higher, potentially up to 1000 Megabits per second. 

The timeframe for 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. During the Department's extensive stakeholder consultations in 2015, telecommunications service providers indicated a 3-5 year timeline to roll-out a network of the scale envisaged under the NBP once contracts are in place.

The Department will engage with winning bidder(s) on the best roll-out strategy, in order to target areas of particularly poor service, business needs and/or high demand and a prioritisation programme.

The Programme for Government also commits to measures to assist in the roll-out of the network once a contract is awarded.

In this regard, I established a Mobile Phone and Broadband Task Force in July 2016 together with Minister Humphreys to identify immediate solutions to broadband and mobile phone coverage deficits and investigate how better services could be provided to consumers prior to the full build and roll-out of the network planned under the National Broadband Plan State intervention. The report of the Task Force was published in December and is  available on my Department's website.

In producing this report, the Task Force worked with Departments, local authorities, ComReg, State agencies, the telecoms industry and other key stakeholders. The report contains 40 actions that will alleviate some of the telecommunications deficits across Ireland and the implementation programme on mobile phone and broadband access identifies 19 of these actions as areas where immediate and direct action by Departments and State agencies can ensure accelerated benefits to consumers.

The work of the Task Force is being led by an Implementation Group.  This group brings together all key stakeholders identified in the Task Force report with responsibility for delivery of actions. This group will formally report every 90 days on progress made on all actions to both myself and Minister Humphreys. I am expecting the first such quarterly report shortly.

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

In my Department's Estimates for 2017, I have secured an €8 million provision for RTE to allow it to free up the 700 MHz spectrum band. ComReg in turn will make plans to allocate this spectrum to provide for significantly enhanced mobile coverage. The 700 MHz band is particularly suited to rural environments where the signal can travel long distances.

These initiatives should assist in enhancing the quality of mobile phone and data services across Ireland and particularly in rural Ireland.