I propose to take Questions Nos. 832 and 833 together.
The Government appointed National Broadband Ireland (NBI) as the Preferred Bidder for the NBP in May 2019. This followed a tender process designed to ensure that every home and business throughout the country will have access to future proofed high speed broadband and will cater specifically to an estimated 1.1 million people, representing almost 25% of the population of rural Ireland who would not otherwise have access to this vital service. Since then my officials have been performing the due diligence work needed before a contract can be concluded.
As a State intervention, the NBP must comply with the requirements of the European Commission’s Guidelines on the application of the State aid rules on broadband. The Guidelines require, amongst other things, that Member States carry out a detailed mapping exercise and public consultation process in particular to identify as far as reasonably possible those areas where intervention is required.
My Department recently conducted a public consultation to close the ongoing mapping exercise, seeking submissions from operators who wish to have their existing high speed broadband networks, or who have developed plans to invest in high speed broadband networks over the next 7 years, to be included on the Department’s High Speed Broadband Map. That consultation was extended twice at the request of operators, resulting in a total nine week period for submissions and it closed on 30th September 2019.
As part of the consultation, over 180 submissions were received from a variety of stakeholders, including 30 from large and small commercial telecommunications operators, with the remainder from local authority broadband officers and members of the public.
Operator submissions are assessed against the Department’s published assessment criteria. Operators submitting planned investments are required to sign a declaration that they will enter into a Commitment Agreement with the Department if their plans satisfy the assessment criteria and are accepted by the Department as being concrete and credible.
The findings of the consultation, which will be available in the coming weeks, will ensure that the State Intervention Area is up to date and that it reflects commercial operators’ plans and the responses from householders and businesses, in advance of a contract being signed later this year. This will be an important element in concluding the State Aid approval process with the European Commission.
Both I and my officials have provided detailed and comprehensive information to the Oireachtas on the National Broadband Plan (NBP), including with the respect to the Intervention Area Map, and details of the process through which the map may be changed are published on my Departments website.