Through the Schools Broadband Access Programme the Department of Education and Skills provides for the supply of internet connectivity for all recognised primary and post primary schools, and some 98% of schools are included in this scheme.
All post-primary schools (715 in the 2017-2018 school year) and some 58 special schools are included in the High Speed Broadband programme with uncontended symmetrical connectivity of 100 Mbp/s plus.
Under the current primary schools programme the Department continually reviews the availability of services and upgrades schools where the opportunity arises, in line with contractual and budgetary requirements. A framework involving 14 providers was put in place in 2017 which has ensured improved solutions are available to primary schools and to date, drawdowns from the Framework of Providers of Broadband Services saw some 1,400 primary schools awarded download speeds of 30Mbps or greater (the baseline download speed required under the National Broadband Plan). This represents more than one third of all primary schools. in 2012 less than 100 primary schools were on those speeds. Further schools are likely to be upgraded to those speeds in 2019, through EIR's 300K Rural Deployment commitment.
The policy of the Department through the Schools Broadband Access Programme is to offer the best quality connectivity to all schools in line with the technical solutions available in the market and within financial constraints. Currently investment of some €14m is allocated annually for the provision of internet connectivity to schools. Over the past three years my Department has invested some €40 million in the Schools Broadband Access programme. Broadband capacity can vary across geographical locations and is dependent on local infrastructure. A Schools Broadband Service Desk, managed on the Department's behalf by the Professional Development Service for Teachers - Technology in Education, is a direct point of contact for schools on the programme, providing first line technical support and liaising with the providers to install and maintain services.
The Department is obliged to adhere to procurement regulations, and must engage with the selected providers on the DES Framework of Providers of Broadband Services through a tender process to award services. Having awarded a school service to the highest placed tenderer, the Department is then required to work with that provider to install the service. This is the basis on which all state-funding is utilised to ensure transparency and equal treatment for all schools and providers, and adherence to regulatory requirements.
The need to improve broadband connectivity to primary schools is recognised in the Digital Strategy for Schools 2015-2020, and access to high speed broadband is one of the indicators identified in the Digital Strategy Action Plan. An interdepartmental working group has been established to determine how best to address broadband connectivity to primary schools The Group includes representatives of DES, PDST support service for schools, HEA-net and the Department of Communications, Climate Action and Environment. The work of the Group will take account of the developments on the implementation of the Governments’ National Broadband Plan and its associated Intervention Strategy and the provision offered by industry. The options identified will be reviewed and evaluated in a final report.