Wednesday, 10 October 2018

Questions (11, 13)

Bobby Aylward

Question:

11. Deputy Bobby Aylward asked the Minister for Communications, Climate Action and Environment the steps he has taken to improve broadband and connectivity services in a town (details supplied); and if he will make a statement on the matter. [41222/18]

View answer

Bobby Aylward

Question:

13. Deputy Bobby Aylward asked the Minister for Communications, Climate Action and Environment the steps he has taken to improve broadband and connectivity services in a town (details supplied); and if he will make a statement on the matter. [41221/18]

View answer

Oral answers (6 contributions) (Question to Communications)

I ask these two questions together because they are connected and both apply to towns in my constituency of Carlow-Kilkenny. What steps has the Minister taken to improve the broadband and connectivity services in Graiguenamanagh and Urlingford?

I propose to take Questions Nos. 11 and 13 together. 

In respect of the two townlands referred to by the Deputy, according to my Department’s high-speed broadband map, available at www.broadband.gov.ie, the majority of the premises in the townlands of Graiguenamanagh and Urlingford in County Kilkenny are in the blue area. These areas of the map are where commercial operators are already delivering or have plans to deliver high-speed broadband services. In Graiguenamanagh, this includes some 461 premises, or 88% of those premises in the townland. In Urlingford 537 or 98% of premises in that townland are in a blue area.

The 60 remaining premises in Graiguenamanagh and 13 in Urlingford are in the amber area on the high-speed broadband map.  Premises in this area will be provided with high-speed broadband through the State-led intervention. When this Government came into office, just 53% of premises in Kilkenny had access to high-speed broadband. When Eir's rural fibre deployment has been completed, 63% of premises in Kilkenny will have such access.

Practical initiatives will continue to benefit premises that are currently awaiting access to a high-speed broadband service, for example through the positive work of the mobile phone and broadband task force.  The task force is working to address specific issues that are having an impact on the delivery of mobile phone and broadband services. It has overseen the delivery of a number of key solutions.  Under the task force, engagement between telecommunications operators and local authorities through the broadband officers is continuing to strengthen.  The broadband officers are acting as single points of contact in local authorities for their communities.  The appointment of broadband officers is reaping rewards, for example by ensuring a much greater degree of consistency in engagements with operators and by clearing obstacles to the development of infrastructure. The Department of Rural and Community Development maintains a list of broadband officers, and a link to access this list is available on the website of my Department. As I explained to the House in response to earlier questions, the procurement process to appoint a bidder for the NBP State intervention network is now at the final stage. Evaluation of the final tender submission is ongoing and will be allowed the time required.

It is all right to speak about colours and everything, but State intervention is urgently required in Urlingford. A significant area of the town is covered by commercial operators, but some areas that are crucial to the local economy, such as Urlingford business park, are awaiting State intervention through the NBP. A new nursing home that is due to open in the business park will cater for 90 patients and will employ up to 90 people. A designated Alzheimer's unit with 30 additional beds will require up to 60 additional staff because of the 2:1 ratio associated with the intensive care needs in such units. This facility will require high-speed broadband services to facilitate modern systems for organising meals, medication lists and treatment plans. My information is that three full-time staff at the facility will be dedicated to data output alone. If they cannot avail of adequate broadband, this state-of-the-art facility will have a Stone Age technology infrastructure. I ask the Minister to liaise with the major service providers on the ground to ensure a temporary solution is provided to facilitate a high-speed service as we contend with the delays in State subvention under the national broadband plan. Like many areas in Carlow-Kilkenny, Urlingford requires high-speed broadband services to facilitate businesses and employees. Improved services will also stimulate local economic growth, attract further business and create more jobs in our rural and regional towns.

Urlingford is a good example for colleagues because 98% of the town is in the blue area. With 13 exceptions, every premises in Urlingford is in the blue area. That means it has access, or has plans to have access, to a minimum download speed of 30 Mbps and a minimum upload speed of 6 Mbps. I accept that there are premises around the country which are not getting such speeds even though they are designated with the dark blue colour code on our database, and some of the premises mentioned by the Deputy earlier could be included on such a list. If that is the case, I plead with colleagues to feed that information back to us. As the Deputy will be aware, when I addressed colleagues in the audiovisual room a couple of years ago I said that such feedback should be sent to broadband@dccae.gov.ie. If any location - Urlingford, Lucan or any other part of the country - designated with the blue colour code on our map is not receiving the minimum level of service, we need to know about it in order that we can amend the plan and ensure access is provided through the State intervention phase of this project.

I accept what the Minister is saying. I tabled these questions on the basis of the information available to me, which is that these services are not available in Urlingford and Graiguenamanagh. It is all right to speak about coloured areas, blue areas and everything else, but these services must be available to new businesses that are coming into these towns. Rural towns that need businesses need broadband. That is the most important thing. I could go through the same issue in the case of Graiguenamanagh. I could use the same language that I used when I spoke about Urlingford. The service is not happening on the ground. When will it happen to boost these businesses and these towns? They need an open chance as they try to rebuild themselves after the strictures of the recession. It is one thing to talk about colours and everything else, but I ask the Minister to focus on the importance of roll-out. When will the service be available to people in Graiguenamanagh, Urlingford and elsewhere? I could mention places throughout the country. That is what I am asking questions about.

I fully understand the frustration that exists. We are all experiencing that on a daily basis in our constituencies. People are hugely frustrated about the lack of access to broadband. The Deputy has dismissed the colour coding, but it is an important part of the development of this network. It is important for places that are not getting a service to be designated with the amber colour code. I ask the Deputy to make sure the premises he has mentioned are not designated with the dark blue colour code. We need to make sure they get broadband. Under the NBP, we are initially rolling out 300 broadband connection points. These access hubs will be publicly accessible right across this country. Free public Wi-Fi will be available at hot desks. This will give people access to services in their communities while they are awaiting the physical roll-out of services to their homes. We are determined to ensure every home gets access to high-speed broadband.