Tuesday, 21 May 2019

Questions (60)

Peter Burke


60. Deputy Peter Burke asked the Minister for Communications, Climate Action and Environment the number of homes in County Westmeath that will benefit from the national broadband plan; the investment in the county over the duration of the plan; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [21477/19]

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Oral answers (6 contributions) (Question to Communications)

I again thank Deputy Burke for letting me substitute for him today. I presume the Minister of State will have substituted my county in the reply. I welcome the recent announcement regarding the national broadband plan. Like many rural Deputies, I have been inundated over recent years by people asking questions about when they will get broadband, saying they cannot access this and that, so it is well overdue. With regard to County Carlow, how many homes will benefit from this and what cost will be involved? Are the figures available for the number of homes, farms and businesses?

The status of broadband in Carlow is that today 65% of premises have access to high-speed broadband, compared with 61% in 2015. Some 18,052 or 28% of Carlow premises will receive high-speed broadband under the State intervention. Since April 2017, Eir has provided high-speed broadband to 1,980 premises in Carlow. When Eir's deployment is complete, the company will have provided high-speed broadband to 3,942 premises in Carlow. The national broadband plan investment in providing high-speed broadband in Carlow over the duration of the plan will be approximately €29 million.

The maps use the latest version of GeoDirectory and are revised every three months. They show the number of premises in all the areas of the map, including the light blue areas, and may change from version to version. The information shows that improvements are happening. On commercial activity in Carlow, SIRO is active in Carlow town with a 1 Gb connection to the Carlow gigabit hub and more than €7 million is being invested by Open Eir in upgrading the broadband network in the county. The mobile telephone and broadband task force for those premises awaiting access to high-speed broadband will continue to progress practical initiatives through the task force to address obstacles and improve connectivity in respect of existing and future mobile broadband services.

Engagement between the telecommunications operators and the local authorities' broadband officers continues to strengthen. These broadband officers act as a single point of contact in the local authorities for communities. The appointment of these officers is already reaping rewards in terms of ensuring a much greater degree of consistency in engagements.

I thank the Minister of State for his comprehensive reply and I welcome the fact that €29 million will be invested in County Carlow. That is very good news and a welcome investment, although it is long overdue. Will the Minister of State indicate when the first of this money will spent? It was indicated a few weeks ago that it would be spent over a seven-year period. Is there a breakdown of the number of homes that will be done in year one, year two, year three and so forth? Is there a specific target of the money to be spent in a particular year or is it just an overall cost?

The €29 million is the overall cost for the roll-out of broadband for Carlow. Following the rigorous evaluation by the Department, a recommendation was brought to the Government, which was accepted, to confer preferred bidder status on Granahan McCourt, the remaining bidder in the national broadband plan procurement process. The Government has agreed to proceed with the preferred bidder. The Government decision means it is intended to award the State intervention contract to National Broadband Ireland subject to the contract close, including the finalisation of financial and legal documents. Deployment of the national broadband plan State intervention network will commence shortly after that. The roll-out will take seven years from the beginning of deployment until the last house is connected. Local authority broadband officers will act as a single point of contact between the local authorities and the bidder's deployment teams, allowing greater engagement between those parties on matters such as planning permission and road opening licences.

The other important issue is the broadband connection points, of which there will be 300 in the country. It is anticipated that these will be connected first and the broadband officers have identified almost 300 connection points. These broadband connection points will be deployed and connected in places such as community centres, GAA clubs, schools and public buildings chosen by the broadband officers where connectivity is particularly poor. There are seven in County Carlow.

Where are the seven? Have the seven areas been indicated? The Minister of State said the broadband officer would nominate those venues. Will they be first before the work on the overall roll-out of the scheme to houses and businesses? Have the hubs or connection areas the Minister of State mentioned been identified yet?

My understanding is that the broadband officer, in conjunction with the local authority, has identified areas where these broadband connection points would be of most benefit. The broadband officer is engaging further with the owners, community centres or community groups to tie down the premises. The other part is that a body of work must be done, and it is ongoing this week and next week, on how the local authorities can put a service level agreement in place to allow these centres to become part of the national broadband plan.

On the question of where the seven centres are, I cannot identify them but the local broadband officer can give the Deputy a good indication.

Question No. 61 replied to with Written Answers.