I propose to take Questions Nos. 30 and 47 together.
The purpose of the National Broadband Plan (NBP) is to ensure that over 1.1 million of our citizens in rural Ireland have the same opportunity to participate in the digital society as citizens living in urban areas. This will bring significant benefits including in areas such as e-Health, e-Education, smart farming, regional development and tourism.
The NBP aims to ensure that every home, school and business in Ireland has access to high speed broadband. I recently brought a recommendation to Government to confer Preferred Bidder status on Granahan McCourt, the remaining bidder in the NBP procurement process and Government agreed to this.
The Government decision of 7 May 2019 means that it is intended to award the State Intervention contract to the Preferred Bidder. This award is subject to contract close, including finalisation of financial and legal documents. Deployment of the NBP State Intervention network will commence shortly after that.
This plan will ensure that rural Ireland will have the same opportunities as urban Ireland. Digital participation helps small and medium businesses to compete successfully on a global scale, accessing more customers and enabling businesses to streamline their efficiencies to provide for cloud computing, back-up and recovery and e-commerce services.
In addition, the provision of high speed broadband in rural Ireland is of critical importance in areas such as flexible and remote working. Remote or home-working is becoming an increasingly prevalent employment model, including amongst overseas firms that continue to invest in Ireland. This area of the economy is projected to double over the next 5 years. It will also afford national and international employers better access to a wider catchment of skilled workers, even where offices and businesses are located within more rural areas.
The efficient and timely provision of a high speed broadband network across Ireland will also enable agricultural businesses to move into smarter farming which will increase output while reducing administrative costs. Smart farming can improve Ireland's competitiveness on the international scale through efficiencies delivered via remote monitoring of livestock, increased crop output, data driven crop and herd management and enabling quality software that supports efficient farm management and profitability.
The National Broadband Plan highlights the importance of remote working opportunities to regenerate, revitalise and re-establish regional and rural Ireland as an attractive place to live and work. In turn this will help bridge the rural\urban divide and create equality of employment opportunity across Ireland.