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.
In April, I published an updated High Speed Broadband Map which is available at www.broadband.gov.ie which shows the extent of the State Intervention area and also the areas targeted for commercial services.
- 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.
There are c.2.3m premises in Ireland, of which approximately 23% (542,000) premises are located in the AMBER area on the Map. 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.
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 shows that the school in Upperchurch Co Tipperary falls within an AMBER area and will be part of the State Intervention procurement process.
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.
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, in July 2016, together with Minister Humphreys I established the Mobile Phone and Broadband Taskforce 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 at the following link: www.dccae.gov.ie/communications/en-ie/Pages/Publication/Report-of-the-Mobile-Phone-and-Broadband-Taskforce.aspx.
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 this month.
In addition, I signed regulations allowing ComReg to proceed with the allocation of spectrum in the 3.6 GHz radio spectrum band. On 22 May, ComReg announced the result of its 3.6 GHz spectrum award which 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.