Wednesday, 14 February 2018

Questions (25)

Bobby Aylward


25. Deputy Bobby Aylward asked the Minister for Communications, Climate Action and Environment the measures contained within the national broadband plan to ensure equality in the roll-out of broadband services in rural areas, rural communities and regional towns; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [7396/18]

View answer

Oral answers (6 contributions) (Question to Communications)

I ask the Minister the measures contained within the national broadband plan to ensure equality in the roll-out of broadband services in rural areas, rural communities and regional towns; and if he will make a statement on the matter.

The Government's national broadband plan, NBP, aims to ensure high-speed broadband access of a minimum of 30 Mbps, 24 hours a day, seven days a week, for all premises, communities and towns in Ireland, regardless of location. For those in areas where commercial operators cannot or will not deliver a service, access will be delivered via a State-led intervention. A variety of measures will be undertaken to ensure equality under the NBP State-led intervention in order that no county or community will be left behind.

As the Deputy will know, my Department is continuing the formal procurement process to engage the company that will roll out a new high-speed broadband network in the State intervention area. The practical issue of the roll-out across the country as a whole will be an important factor in the final contract negotiations between my Department’s specialist procurement team and the company. The company will be required to deploy the build and roll-out of the NBP State intervention network in the most timely and efficient manner, while addressing the real need for communities across all counties to quickly access high-speed broadband in the short term.

My Department is working with the broadband officers now in place in every local authority. The Department of Rural and Community Development’s regional action groups have identified strategic community points across all counties where services can be connected at an early juncture after the award of the NBP contract in order that access will be made immediately available on roll-out to provide high-speed broadband for businesses and homeowners. As fibre connections to villages and communities continue to improve, so too will public Wi-Fi, which provides people with greater accessibility to better services.

I have raised this matter consistently with the Minister since he assumed office. As recently as last week, I brought to him a message from rural Ireland that we needed broadband as soon as possible. Given the issues in his constituency, I know that he is acutely aware of the feeling on the ground. People are frustrated, fed up and tired of the delays in the roll-out of the national broadband plan. Rural communities have been kept waiting for seven years for the roll-out by the Government of high-speed broadband. The Minister has to get serious about rural Ireland and rural communities such as those I represent in the constituency of Carlow-Kilkenny. Broadband is not a luxury for schools, families, businesses or farmers but an absolute necessity. I keep saying that if it is not delivered soon, the benefits may be lost forever as investment will flow from rural and regional Ireland. We need to reopen boarded-up shop fronts, create jobs and sustain enterprise in regional towns and villages, but we do not have an equal platform of broadband services on which to compete with the larger cities. Plans and declarations are great, but what we need is action on the ground sooner rather than later.

I thank the Deputy. I agree with him; it is not a luxury. We need to see fibre broadband being rolled out across the country as quickly as possible and it is actually happening The eir fibre broadband roll-out will bring high-speed broadband at speeds of 1,000 Mbps to 4,898 premises in Kilkenny and 3,390 in Carlow. In less than two years, or less than 100 weeks, they will have access to 1,000 Mbps, meaning that potentially they could watch up to 200 high definition Netflix programmes at the one time without any drop-off in service. As I said before, if it comes on a hare's back to rural Ireland, it cannot come quickly enough. I will do everything within my power to ensure it happens as quickly as possible and will not be delayed one day longer than is absolutely necessary to deliver on the objectives of the national broadband plan.

I am grateful for what the Minister has said about the ongoing roll-out. However, I have people coming to me who do not have access. These are the ones who are constantly ringing my mobile phone and constituency office. I have more people who come to me who run small and medium-sized enterprises. They will stay in villages and towns if they can get access, but it is not available. They are moving to the cities and away from rural Ireland. We want regional development but are not getting it. For farmers, applications for direct payments and so on are all made online, but they do not have access. One person spoke to me just ten minutes before I came into the Chamber to ask this question. He is living three miles outside Ross and there are ten in what is a big family. They do not have access to broadband. There is a broadband service on their left and their right and across the road. They are in the middle. They have tried eir and Vodafone and been told they cannot get access to it. This has been ongoing for three elections, since 2015 and 2016, and they were on to me again yesterday about it.

How long will it take for it to be delivered? This family are frustrated because they live three miles from New Ross and cannot access that service.

I understand their frustration. Communities, villages, schools and rural businesses in my constituency are equally frustrated and I understand and appreciate that. We are trying to provide them with a broadband service in the short term. There will be significant announcements in that regard in the coming months on foot of the release of the 3.6 GHz wireless spectrum. In addition, we have asked Eir to look at the anomalies that have been created. Although it is great that 40,000 premises every quarter and 300 farms per week are getting high-speed broadband, that is not much good to those outside that process. Through the mobile phone and broadband task force we are trying to facilitate the faster deployment of the existing potential infrastructure to solve short-term problems for such people pending the roll-out of pure fibre to their doors.