ESB (Electronic Communications Networks) Bill 2013: Report Stage (Resumed) and Final Stage

I move amendment No. 4:

In page 5, after line 38, to insert the following:

“Change of name of Bord Gáis Éireann to Ervia

8. (1) The name of the body (established by section 7 of the Gas Act 1976) the present name of which is, in the Irish language, Bord Gáis Éireann and, in the English language, The Irish Gas Board, shall, on and from such day as the Minister appoints by order, be Ervia.

(2) References in any enactment, statutory instrument, legal proceedings or any other document to Bord Gáis Éireann or The Irish Gas Board shall, on and from the day appointed under subsection (1), be construed as references to Ervia.”.

Amendment agreed to.
Bill, as amended, received for final consideration.
Question proposed: "That the Bill do now pass."

I thank the parties and Independents opposite for facilitating the passage of this legislation. It is, as those on all sides have agreed, important in the context of enhancing the quality of broadband available in provincial Ireland. I welcome the investment by the main companies in the sector that is proceeding in conjunction with this legislation.

Deputy Colreavy inquired about rural areas which may not be covered by the current initiative. I must inform him that the mapping exercise relating to the implementation of the national broadband plan is very well advanced. As soon as that process is concluded and our negotiations with the EU have been completed, we will proceed as fast as may be with the implementation of the national broadband plan. What we are doing here - with the approval of the various parties in the House - is enacting enabling legislation to permit the ESB, on its own or in conjunction with another company or companies, to use its existing supply infrastructure to roll out to areas of provincial Ireland fibre-optic technology that has been future proofed. This will be a very significant step in enhancing the level of connectivity that is available to those in provincial Ireland.

I again thank colleagues for facilitating the passage of the legislation.

I wish to convey to the Minister and his officials the appreciation of Deputy Moynihan, who could not be present because he has an appointment elsewhere, in respect of this legislation. While I understand that the legislation will greatly improve the provision of broadband services in urban settings, I take this opportunity to refer, as I did during a Topical Issue debate prior to Christmas, to the provision of such services in rural areas. I welcome the Minister's confirmation to the effect that the mapping process is well advanced. I plead with him and his officials to make this matter a top priority. Rural Ireland is dying. The provision of broadband services to rural areas is critical. The village from which I come contains four small shops and it is no longer possible to purchase mobile phone credit at any of them. The only place one can get such credit is the local post office. The reason for this is that there is no broadband coverage in the area. The local petrol station only opens four days per week instead of seven. If there was broadband coverage available, the owner would be able to install a special machine so that people might purchase fuel on a self-service basis even when the station is closed.

The provision of broadband services would help, to some degree, in alleviating the problems rural Ireland is facing. I appeal to the Minister to make dealing with deficiencies in the provision of broadband services in rural areas a top priority. On behalf of my colleague, Deputy Moynihan, I thank the Minister and his officials for bring the Bill before the House.

Notwithstanding my continuing concerns with regard to the possible sale of the utility involved, from the outset I have stated my belief that this is very good legislation. I will seek another way to ensure that my concerns in respect of the selling of networks might be addressed.

The legislation has the potential to improve broadband access dramatically throughout the country. However, it also increases the possibility that a two-speed Ireland will be created. If one looks at a map of this country, one will discover that there is very little infrastructure in the west. Broadband is the one area in respect of which the west should be able to keep up to speed with the remainder of the country. I appreciate the Minister's comments to the effect that the mapping exercise is almost complete. I am aware, however, of a number of businesses which cannot continue to operate because they cannot obtain broadband access. I know the owners of two businesses who are obliged to drive around in their cars in order to locate a signal strong enough to allow them to transact business electronically. People should not have to do that in this day and age.

As soon as the information becomes available to him, will the Minister provide an indicative timescale regarding when the public service obligation aspect of this matter will be addressed? There will be no difficulty providing broadband services to centres of population because the number of potential customers will make it commercially viable to do so. Will the Minister, as soon as is possible, outline an indicative timescale as to when broadband services will be made available to people who live in areas to which the provision of such services would not be considered commercially viable? This is an important matter and it is having an impact in the context of existing and potential future employment. Each day or week the people to whom I refer are obliged to wait for broadband services is a day or a week too many.

I thank the Minister and his officials for bringing the Bill before the House.

I welcome the passage of the Bill. The weaknesses in the broadband infrastructure have been highlighted by Deputies on all sides of the House and it is important to note the concerns expressed by colleagues, especially those who represent rural Ireland and the regions. However, I firmly believe this legislation will be a game-changer in the delivery of broadband infrastructure. These networks will provide the opportunity to reach parts of Ireland that were never reached before. I understand the commercial element and that the service-providers will target clusters of population but the Bill empowers those service-providers and the ESB to reach out to other communities who had not been reached before. We have been playing catch-up as a result of the lack of investment in telecommunications infrastructure. This legislation will increase competition in the sector and present opportunities to expand fibre network into areas in the country which could not be reached heretofore. I welcome the Minister's assurances to the House that this service-provider, along with all service-providers will be monitored to ensure the provision of broadband to the citizens and regions of the country. The Minister has assured us that he will pursue the national broadband plan, which is essential. This Bill is an important step in the provision of high standard quality broadband and it is to be welcomed.

Question put and agreed to.

The next business is a very appropriate - it is the sunbeds Bill.