Tuesday, 26 March 2019

Questions (1028)

Gerry Adams

Question:

1028. Deputy Gerry Adams asked the Minister for Communications, Climate Action and Environment the estimated timeframe for an adequate broadband connection to the broadband blackspots throughout County Louth; the status of the timeframe for the completion of roll out of the national broadband plan for County Louth; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [13045/19]

View answer

Written answers (Question to Communications)

The National Broadband Plan aims to ensure that every home, school and business in Ireland has access to high speed broadband. This is being achieved through a combination of commercial investment across the country, and a State intervention in those areas where commercial operators acting alone are unlikely to invest.

Since December 2015, the number of premises with access to high speed broadband in Co. Louth has increased by 6,885, a 10% increase. Today, the number of premises in Louth with access to high speech broadband is 51,993, or 85% of the total premises in the county. Another 381 will be served by eir under that company’s ongoing rural deployment.

The remaining 8,660 homes, schools and businesses in Louth will be connected under the government’s National Broadband Plan.

In April 2017 my Department published an updated High Speed Broadband Map, which is available at www.broadband.gov.ie. This map shows the areas targeted by commercial operators to provide high speed broadband services and the areas that will be included in the State Intervention Area under the National Broadband Plan. The Map is colour coded and searchable by address or Eircode.

The procurement process to appoint a bidder for the State intervention network is now at the final stage. I will bring a recommendation to Government in relation to the NBP in the coming weeks.

Separately, to address mobile phone blackspots, officials in my Department and in the Department of Rural and Community Development are actively engaged with local authorities and mobile phone operators to identify priority mobile blackspots and take action to resolve this issue.

To identify the areas across the country lacking adequate mobile phone coverage, both Departments have worked with a pilot group of local authorities to identify the issues associated with mapping local blackspots. This pilot exercise has been completed, with all local authorities now having been asked to map local blackspots and identify infrastructure that could potentially be used to provide additional coverage on an economic basis. This exercise is ongoing. The blackspot information received so far is providing useful and usable data regarding poor coverage in many rural areas and along national and regional roads.

Various other initiatives are under way to address mobile coverage blackspots:

- Both Departments have worked to achieve a greater consensus around site selection for telecoms infrastructure and therefore improve mobile phone coverage.

- A focus group was established to provide guidance with respect to categories of location where high quality reliable mobile coverage should be made available as a priority. The report of the focus group was published on my Department’s website on 31 August 2018. It is anticipated that the output of the focus group should influence the actions of the mobile network operators in their work to reduce mobile phone blackspots. It will also inform future policy in my Department with regards to priorities for mobile phone services.

- A working group has been established with the remit of investigating the feasibility of developing standardised policy for accessing and utilising State and publicly-owned assets for the deployment of telecommunications infrastructure.

- ComReg has now delivered a composite national outdoor coverage map, which will, in tandem with its work on handset testing and activities to raise consumer awareness, allow people across Ireland to optimise the services available to them.

- Following a consultation process ComReg has developed a licensing scheme which will enable households and businesses to use mobile phone repeaters to boost signals into their premises and bring immediate improvements in mobile coverage.

All of these initiatives should assist in enhancing the quality of mobile phone and data services, particularly in rural areas.

Further information on the Mobile Phone and Broadband Taskforce is available on my Department’s website, www.broadband.gov.ie.