Thursday, 5 December 2019

Questions (372)

Bernard Durkan

Question:

372. Deputy Bernard J. Durkan asked the Minister for Rural and Community Development the extent to which he will address issues such as local connectivity in rural areas; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [50829/19]

View answer

Written answers (Question to Rural)

I am interpreting the Deputy's question as relating to telecommunications connectivity.

My role as Minister of State with responsibility for Community Development, Natural Resources and Digital Development means that I work across both the Department of Rural and Community Development and the Department of Communications, Climate Action and Environment.

The Department of Communications, Climate Action and Environment has overall policy responsibility for the National Broadband Plan. However, the Department of Rural and Community Development works closely with that Department and with Local Authorities to help prepare rural communities for the roll out of high-speed broadband.

The Mobile Phone and Broadband Taskforce, which I chair and which is co-ordinated by officials of the two Departments, has successfully addressed a number of complex issues over the last three years that will not only help facilitate the roll-out of the National Broadband Plan but has also improved access to high-quality mobile phone services. Quarterly Progress Reports on the work of the Taskforce are published on the websites of both Departments, and on the Gov.ie portal.

The Department of Rural and Community Development also supports the roll out of the National Broadband Plan through the network of Broadband Officers located in each Local Authority. The Broadband Officers are co-funded by the Department and provide a vital point of contact for industry and the public regarding telecoms issues.

The Broadband Officers are also leading on the development of Digital Strategies for each Local Authority. These Digital Strategies will enable communities to make full use of digital technology in their daily lives, and will be particularly beneficial when the Broadband Plan is rolled out.

In addition, the Department of Rural and Community Development works closely with all local authorities to improve the availability of free WiFi connectivity through the country. My officials have been supporting the Local Authorities in registering and applying to the European Commission initiative WIFI4EU and so far, Ireland secured a total of 100 vouchers, amounting to €1,500,000. The Department of Rural and Community Development is committed to match-fund each voucher secured up to €15,000. This will significantly increase access to public WiFi throughout the country.

Finally, the Department also plays a key role in relation to the establishment of the nationwide network of Broadband Connection Points (BCPs). The BCP initiative will see high-speed broadband services brought to approximately 300 sites, typically schools, community centres and sports clubs, in remote and rural areas across the country, ahead of the arrival of the National Broadband Plan network.