I call Deputy Mattie McGrath to move the motion. The Deputy has 20 minutes.
Broadband Service Provision: Motion [Private Members]
I am sharing time with two other Members who are on their way. I will take eight minutes.
Is that agreed? Agreed.
“That Dáil Éireann:
notes the importance of ensuring that every premises, school and business in Ireland should have access to high speed broadband;
acknowledges that the National Broadband Plan (NBP) aims to address this conclusively;
notes the importance of ensuring that no home, school or business is left behind in the implementation and delivery of the NBP; and calls on the Minister for Communications, Energy and Natural Resources to:
— ensure, in particular, that services provided by the telecom sector can be delivered in rural Ireland;
— where there is a doubt of delivery by the telecom sector, provide assurance that those homes, schools or businesses will get an affordable high speed broadband connection and can be included as part of the State intervention if necessary; and
— update the House on the status of the National Broadband Plan procurement process.”
Ar an gcéad dul síos, ba mhaith liom mo chomhghairdeas a ghabháil leis an Aire, Deputy Naughten. I am delighted the Minister has been appointed. I wish him well and look forward to a constructive engagement with him. I know of his energy and enthusiasm and hope he will be able to deal with this massive issue because it is very important that we deal with it.
The motion notes the importance of ensuring that every premises, school and business in Ireland should have access to high speed broadband; acknowledges that the National Broadband Plan, NBP, aims to address this conclusively; and the importance of ensuring that no home, school or business is left behind in the implementation and delivery of the NBP. That is vital for parity of esteem, fairness and equity. In particular, the motion calls on the Minister to ensure that services provided by the telecom sector can be delivered in rural Ireland, and where there is a doubt over delivery by the telecom sector, provide assurance that those homes, schools or businesses will get an affordable high speed broadband connection and can be included as part of the State intervention if necessary. That is very important if we are to thrive as a nation and develop not only our agriculture industry but the many cottage industries and businesses that want to locate in rural Ireland but cannot do so at present. One of the main factors people coming here to take up jobs or those wanting to advertise jobs take into account is the area of broadband provision. It is about high speed connectivity but it is unfair and wrong that people living in towns and regions in rural Ireland, down to the parishes and the streets, and farmers in rural Ireland have one hand tied behind their backs, and sometimes two, because of the lack of a broadband service. That is deplorable and it is time we dealt with this once and for all. We should grasp the nettle and ensure that every house, school and business that needs it has broadband. I say that from the bottom of my heart, and I know that every TD in the Rural Independent Group is of the same view. The Minister understands the problem because he too serves a rural constituency. Those who will speak in the debate this evening, be they from town or city, understand that there are problems with broadband provision, and all we seek is parity of esteem. We are not asking for favouritism or special treatment but parity of esteem with our colleagues, brothers and sisters throughout the Twenty-six Counties.
People doing their examinations and those trying to complete CAO forms are at a terrible disadvantage. I am aware of a case involving a person who had passed the examination to get into the Army some years ago but who for health reasons could not be accepted. There was a second round of applications about 18 months ago. This person went into a café in Carrick-on-Suir, in Tipperary, to ensure they would have broadband. Half way through the online interview the system crashed, and that person was denied the right to continue. She had failed her examination as far as the authorities were concerned. That is not right.
Farmers trying to complete application forms or draw down details of grant payments are at a disadvantage. If they are 30 seconds late submitting their applications they are excluded from that process. It is very important that we have broadband in place.
Business people are affected also. I am a business man who, but for the private providers, would be out of business. I set up a business in 1982 but everything changed with the onset of broadband. Everything has to be on the button and done in minutes. When we first got the fax machine we thought it was a wonderful tool but everything has progressed at a fast pace. It is wonderful, but there is no parity of esteem. We have had roll-out after roll-out of broadband services. I sat behind the Minister when he was a backbencher from 2007 to 2011, and it was nothing but roll-outs. We had them in the previous Government, but they all came to nothing in terms of the person who cannot use it. That is the bottom line. We are depending on the Minister and his officials to do something about that.
We are having this debate now, and I see an amendment has been tabled about the privatisation aspect. I do not care who delivers the service as long as somebody delivers it. It has to be delivered. It is like milk, butter or bread. People cannot live on the wind and without broadband they are at a distinct disadvantage. I dislike comparing this with food when many people are starving but it is as important as everyday kitchen essentials. We need broadband connectivity to the household for people from the cradle to the grave.
Doctors surgeries in rural Ireland are affected also. We have a doctor in our group who I am sure will relate to that. They cannot practise unless they have a high-speed broadband connection to transfer information to consultants back and forth. I refer to vital information on X-rays and so on. It is basic information if one is living in a city but for those who do not, it is different, although there are black spots in cities as well. It is vital that we have that service.
There are 42,207 premises in Tipperary which need to be covered by interventions under the national broadband plan. That is an enormous number. I do not wish to be parochial about this but I speak as a Tipperary TD. Until yesterday, 49% of those premises were not covered by the NBP intervention area, with the remaining 51% to be covered by commercial operators. I had them on to me all week, and I know the Minister met them yesterday. They were on to me again all day today. Those people must be saluted and supported. They cannot be pushed overboard and told their services are no longer required because they have been the lifeline for the countryside, and they must be brought in to whatever is going on. I know there is a tender process taking place but I do not want to see big conglomerates involved. According to the newspapers last night the number was whittled down to three. We have to have respect for those providers who took risks, put their hands in their pockets, put up temporary masts and did everything they could. My colleague, Deputy Michael Collins, had a meeting in west Cork last Saturday morning with a group of private people who are waiting to put their hands in their pockets to pay for this because it is valuable and vital. We must not allow those people to be disenfranchised.
The figures I gave the Minister demonstrate the extent of the broadband crisis, particularly in a rural county like Tipperary which has 3,167 townlands and where services need to be expanded and upgraded. I saw on the six o'clock news last night a report about a family from Clerihan, a village only three miles from Clonmel, which is a town of 20,000 people. We are fortunate with all the industry we have in the area through foreign direct investment and otherwise. Clerihan is three miles out the road from Clonmel. I canvassed there during the election but I nearly had to leave because people are so frustrated. Some of them relocated back from England and elsewhere. They want to work from home and set up small indigenous businesses. They are the people we need to drive the recovery and if they cannot do that without a proper broadband service it is a sad day for Ireland as a whole, especially now following Brexit. We need to be up and at it. We have to compete with the best in Europe and in the world. I will hand over to Deputy Michael Lowry.
Deputy Lowry is sharing six minutes with Deputy Noel Grealish.
In 2015, leading figures in the world of telecommunications stated that anything below 25 MB could no longer be defined as broadband. As we are all aware, the European Commission has set 30 MB as the basic speed needed for a viable service. In 2016, several reports highlight the fact that only one third of Irish premises are consistently reaching speeds of 15 MB and above. The remaining two thirds of premises are enduring speeds of less than 15 MB, with a majority of premises in rural areas suffering Internet speeds of less than 4 MB and as low as 1 MB.
Broadband speeds in rural Ireland are way below the European Commission viable service measure of 30 MB. According to international standards, we should not even define rural speeds of 1 MB to 4 MB as broadband. By these standards, rural Internet access speeds in Ireland should be labelled as "low" band and, in many instances, "no" band. Rural citizens are suffering glorified dial-up Internet access, with far reaching and negative consequences for rural homes, business and education, as well as aspects of social and cultural life in rural areas.
In my county of Tipperary it is estimated that there are 41,000 properties without broadband, 8,000 of which are businesses of varying sizes, each attempting to compete in a wider marketplace. Large towns such as Clonmel, Thurles, Nenagh, Tipperary and Templemore are well served by commercial operators. Other smaller towns and villages throughout County Tipperary require immediate intervention by the Government. No business in today’s world can expand and develop without fast, reliable, high speed broadband. It is a basic ingredient needed to progress. What is the use of developing other infrastructure outside main towns and cities when a fast, effective and reliable broadband system is absent? Poor broadband is a destructive obstacle to rural business growth and, consequently, to rural job creation and employment.
The digital divide that exists between rural and urban business impacts upon the delivery and development of education in rural settings. Rural primary and secondary schools have invested in the latest tablets, laptops and interactive whiteboards. To maximise the educational potential of these IT resources, teachers and pupils need decent broadband facilities. How can rural pupils compete with their urban and international peers if they do not have the same opportunities to develop their digital literacy skills? This is a pressing and current form of disadvantage in education which must be addressed as a matter of priority. The landscape of third level education in particular has been reshaped and has evolved in response to demands for e-learning course platforms and facilities. Given the poor standard of broadband speeds, if a person wants to pursue third level education or other online educational opportunities, he or she is at a major disadvantage if he or she lives in rural Ireland.
Inadequate broadband must be recognised as another significant factor prompting rural dwellers to flee their locality in favour of greater prospects in urban areas and elsewhere. Rural dwellers can rightfully feel abandoned and unable to compete, despite their professional capabilities, as they watch urban-based establishments continue to thrive in the unfair, two-tier system that currently exists. Ireland and rural Ireland needs to be able to compete in the global economy now. A five-year timeline or greater is too long and too late. We can no longer permit ambiguity and hesitation around the national broadband plan. We need confirmation that it will be implemented with certainty. Therefore, I would ask if the State could fast-track further the necessary capital funding to expedite the promised roll-out schedule which would grant an earlier delivery date of rural broadband to the majority neglected homes and businesses. It must be remembered that broadband is a basic and essential utility.
Broadband has become, and remains, the single most essential feature of the 21st century for home life, business life and educational development. Businesses and educational institutions, whatever their size, remain the very lifeblood of every economy. If entrepreneurship, small and medium enterprises and the necessary digital skills are to be encouraged to thrive in rural Ireland, access to broadband is essential if we are to work, grow and compete fairly in a national and global economy.
I am encouraged by the Minister's particular interest and commitment and by the fact he has taken the initiative to make this issue a top priority in his Department. Consumer price can be protected through regulation in the chosen ownership model. I would ask the Minister to roll out the scheme as a matter of urgency and without further delay.
I congratulate the Minister, Deputy Naughten, on his appointment. I know he will do an excellent job and that he will not be found wanting in his delivery of broadband. I also congratulate Deputy Hildegarde Naughton on her appointment as Chair of the Committee on Communications, Climate Change and Natural Resources. She will be busy. It is good to have in the House today the two most important people with regard to broadband provision. I am sure any pilot project that will be rolled out will be done in the west. I compliment the Minister for Arts, Heritage and the Gaeltacht, Deputy Humphreys, on the presentation she gave recently regarding the proposal to roll out broadband in Ireland.
As the Minister, Deputy Naughten, is aware, there is a massive digital divide between rural and urban areas in the State. On the one hand, broadband connection speeds of up to 1,000 Mb per second are being offered by some commercial companies in cities. However, in rural areas people are struggling in many cases to get speeds of even 1 Mb, which is not much better than the old dial-up connection when the Internet was in its relative infancy. People are suffering daily as a result. Consider the difficulties of trying to operate a business without a reliable broadband service in this day and age which requires daily connectivity to customers and suppliers. It cannot be done.
A proper Internet connection has also long since gone from being an enjoyable pastime for rural households to being vital to them. One of the biggest problems faced by many rural areas over a number of decades is a growing sense of isolation. Their sense of community, in many cases, has been gradually eroded by a combination of factors, including a loss of local jobs to bigger companies, usually located in urban areas, emigration of huge numbers of the younger generation, and closures of post offices, shops and Garda stations. That sense of isolation will continue to grow at pace in areas which do not have a high speed broadband connection or even a broadband connection of any kind.
While connection speeds continue to grow in the larger urban areas, it is not just a question of creating new employment opportunities. It is increasingly about people being forced out of their home areas because they cannot make a living without reliable and fast Internet access. Even farming is becoming an occupation that cannot function without broadband. More and more forms have to be filled in online.
My home county of Galway is a good example of the level of connectivity that exists in rural areas compared with larger urban areas. Of more than 133,000 premises, including residential and commercial, 62,000 require State intervention to bring them an Internet service. This is in a county that is home to the third largest city in the country where commercial companies will meet the majority of the demand for broadband connections. Almost all that huge number of homes and businesses expected to be covered by State intervention under the national broadband plan will be located in rural areas of the county.
Figures provided recently by the Minister, Deputy Denis Naughten, indicate that more than 56,000 premises in Galway currently have no access to high speed broadband and another 62,500 premises do not have broadband of any significant standard. If one takes out the 40,000 homes and businesses in Galway city, one has the stark reality that less than 13% of those outside the main urban area are with broadband.
I welcome the commitment of the Minister to rectify this situation and his intention to bring high speed broadband to every home in the country. I understand that rolling out such an extensive plan will take time, but I know the Minister will push for it. I know too that the committee will not be left standing either and will support him in his endeavours. I urge him, however, to proceed at the fastest possible pace before even more rural communities have the life squeezed out of them. For the rural communities to survive and thrive in today's world, broadband access is as vital to them as the massive programme of rural electrification was back in the middle of the last century.
I spoke earlier about broadband speeds in the context of a rural-urban digital divide. Ireland is the only country in Europe where average Internet connection speeds have fallen since last year, which is a matter of serious concern. The latest state of the Internet report just published by Akamai indicates a 14% decline, to an average of 14.4 Mb per second, in the first quarter of 2016 compared with the same period in 2015. The remaining countries on the Continent all enjoyed double digit gains over the same year according to this respected American based global Internet service provider. Norway, for example, increased its average speed by 68% over the same period, and 26 countries saw yearly gains of at least 25%. Ireland is now ranked 15th in Europe, although our average Internet connection speed is still ahead of Germany and France. At the start of 2015, Ireland ranked best in Europe and second in the whole world in terms of average connection speeds, at 17.4 Mb. This followed a huge improvement in speeds over 2014, but we are slipping back now at such a startling rate that it is a matter of serious concern. The slide down the index will have to be stopped as we strive to give all the people in the State a fighting chance to make a living and to live their lives where they want by arming them with high speed Internet connection, which is a basic necessity in this day and age.
I know the Minister and the Department will do this. I was impressed with the presentation he gave us. There will be many obstacles in his way. Some local authorities will be proactive while some will not. The Minister should work with local authorities where they are doing work in towns and villages, and he should work with Irish Water when it is laying pipes and constructing drainage schemes. It is important that these bodies work with the Department to ensure the infrastructure is installed at the same time to provide the service and they are not digging the streets twice.
I wish the Minister all the best in his position and I wish the same to the Acting Chairman.
I thank the Rural Alliance for tabling this motion. Delivering high speed broadband to every home, business and school in Ireland is a personal promise from me and my top priority as the responsible Minister. Like all Deputies, I have been frustrated with the lack of progress in this area for the past few years, and so too have hundreds of thousands of people throughout Ireland, including our constituents, the people who elected us to deliver. Yesterday was an important day, a milestone in a project which I believe, in its scale and significance, matches rural electrification. The process is finally moving and is on time.
The motion, tabled by the Rural Alliance, is timely. I promise the Deputies that every home and business in Ireland will have high speed broadband. The roll-out will start in every county in the first year of the programme, and the last homes and businesses will be connected within three to five years. No one will be left behind.
Turning now to the amendments put forward by Fianna Fáil and Sinn Féin, let me be clear that both procurement models will deliver the same service to consumers for the next 25 years. People in rural Ireland will not see any difference in terms of the type, timeliness and cost of services they receive. The Government will exercise the same control over the network for the full 25 years under both models. The network will, as Fianna FáiI asks, ensure the future needs of homes and businesses are met. The only tangible differences are in the cost to the taxpayer and the time it will take to get contracts in place.
On cost, the full concession model, which Fianna Fáil and Sinn Féin want, would cost between 50% and 70% more than the gap funding model. The full cost of the project would be likely to go on the Government’s balance sheet, and the commercial sector input would also be regarded as Government debt. The impact of this on the general Government deficit would be approximately €1 billion more than the gap funding model. This would also reduce the available capital spend by up to €600 million over the next six years.
On timing, the full concession model would take at the very least six months more to negotiate with bidders, a delay the people in need of broadband cannot afford. Ten weeks ago, a delay of six months to the procurement process was announced. Are we really saying to the people that we want them to endure another six-month delay? We want to encourage investment in rural Ireland and that means avoiding delays that are within our control.
As both models will deliver the same thing, the benefit of State ownership is a notional benefit at the end of the contract. My questions to Fianna Fáil and Sinn Féin are these. What projects are they prepared to forgo to pursue a State-owned model? From which projects will they cut €600 million? Do we close long-stay homes for older people that are not up to the Health Information and Quality Authority, HIQA, standards? Are they comfortable returning to their constituencies tomorrow to tell the families and business people of rural Ireland that they are proposing further preventable delays in delivering their vital broadband service? Can they really look them in the eye and tell them that in a world that is more connected than ever, they will continue to lose out? I certainly will not be going to the Connacht final this weekend to tell my constituents that they will have to wait at least six months longer because certain Deputies in this House want the State to own and control the network in 2043, that is, 27 years away. The Fianna Fáil spokesperson in the Seanad, Senator Terry Leyden, while expressing concerns earlier today said that he would not impede me and told me to get on with it.
People in rural Ireland are already frustrated and angry about the delay in delivering services to them. I am not prepared to put other urgent capital investment priorities in schools, local and regional roads, flood relief and primary care residential centres in jeopardy by opting for an ownership model that will give the same outcome at a significantly higher cost. The telecoms industry has invested strongly to deliver high speed broadband to approximately 1.2 million premises in towns and villages throughout Ireland, and this investment is ongoing. It is covering homes and businesses in towns such as Tipperary, Clonmel, Tralee, Cahersiveen, Killarney, Cooraclare, Barna, Inchydoney and Kilrush, to name only a few. Industry had previously promised to deliver to 1.6 million premises. The Department has been closely monitoring these developments.
Yesterday, I announced that the Department has identified up to 170,000 premises which had been expected to get services from the telecoms sector and which will not now get those services. We are working to identify these premises in order that we can include them in the State intervention programme. This will ensure no premises, no matter how isolated, will be left behind.
Effective regulation, such as a universal service obligation, can deal with many of the concerns that could arise in 2043. I am already considering what regulatory safeguards we could introduce to ensure quality services continue to be delivered over the coming years and after 2043 when the contract or contracts expire.
I was amazed this morning to hear Deputy Howlin extolling the virtues of public ownership. As a member of the previous Government he could have made a decision on ownership last December if he was so keen on the full concession model.
He consented to the privatisation of almost 300 Coillte telecommunications masts last year, which would have an impact on mobile phone coverage throughout the country. The Deputy knows well that the Government has to make tough decisions to strike to balance between what is necessary and desirable.
Fianna Fáil has also tabled an amendment on the speed of the network. The speeds we have set out in the procurement process are minimum speeds and not “up to” speeds. I will in the coming days lay a statutory instrument before the House which will transpose key aspects of the European cost of broadband directive. It will deal with infrastructure sharing by utility network operators and timelines for processing permissions to install telecoms infrastructure along public roads in line with the Fianna Fáil amendment. I intend to follow this with measures to ensure all new-build premises have ducting installed for the purposes of installing telecom lines. This will add to existing legislation in this area since 2002.
I believe there is unanimous support in this House for the speedy and efficient delivery of the national broadband plan. I would like to put firmly on the record of the House the progress that has been made. The procurement process commenced in December and yesterday we moved to stage 3 with three qualifying bidders. The Department continues to monitor deployment by the telecoms industry and I am now moving to include another 170,000 premises in the intervention area.
The gap funding ownership model will deliver the same network and services that would be delivered under a full concession model for consumers over the next 25 years. I cannot stand over a full concession model, which would have an additional impact of more than €1 billion on the general Government deficit, reducing the capital spend by more than €600 million and delaying the roll-out of services for at least another six months. I thank the Rural Alliance for tabling this important motion.
It is a simple fact that rural areas need State intervention if they are to provided with high-speed broadband. The Minister will note recent figures released by the IDA indicating that it is missing its own targets on investment in areas outside Dublin and Cork. That means rural Ireland is missing out. Leaving aside companies such as Google, people trying to set up or maintain small businesses are at a distinct disadvantage. When I talk about infrastructure I include areas such as access to reliable power, clean water and high-speed broadband.
Access to high-speed broadband is a problem for over 30% of the population. When one compares Ireland to other highly developed countries in Europe, we are lagging behind countries such as Latvia, Hungary and Poland. Iceland has a 95% broadband penetration rate.
In 2012 the Government task force highlighted all of these issues, as well as the importance of high-speed broadband for economic growth, jobs, boosting small and medium enterprises, schools being able to access online tools and combatting rural isolation. Only a few years after Independence, the State embarked on a major challenge with regard to rural electrification, and the roll-out of broadband is equivalent to that. It was only in 2003 that the last two areas in the country were connected to electricity mains, in Inishturk and Inishturbot. There is a five-year roll-out plan for broadband to every house and business in the country. It is just as important as rural electrification. I would support any move by the Government to make that happen.
I move amendment No. 2:
To insert the following after “National Broadband Plan procurement process”:
“notes that State ownership of the proposed National Broadband Plan network would best ensure the future needs of the homes and businesses covered by this contract are met and the State’s investment protected to the best extent possible;
calls on the Government to:
—ensure the evolving high-speed broadband needs of the locations covered by this contract are met and remain in step with those areas covered by the commercial marketplace, taking
into consideration future technology advances;
—take action to reduce the cost of high-speed broadband by transposing immediately the European Broadband Directive (2014/61/EU); and
—ensure the service provided under the National Broadband Plan will guarantee connection speeds of at least 100 megabytes per second initially; and
resolves that the ownership of the network proposed in the State’s National Broadband Plan revert to the State at the end of the contract period.”
I want to congratulate the Minister on his fiery speech. It is a pity that he did not have a more appropriate speech at Cabinet. It seems that he is a ram in the Dáil and a lamb at Cabinet. Unfortunately, he lost the battle.
Over the past two days he has delivered a forceful presentation on what has been achieved. On a number of occasions, he has identified that his personal opinion and wish would have been to retain the network in State ownership. He went on to give a standard finance line, that is, to ask from where the money would come and the projects we do not want to see happen.
It is a standard line. I was a backbencher on the other side of the House when the same line came from the Department of Finance. It would ask what schools, roads or sewerage schemes we did not want to build. It provides a toolbox of excuses, and it is incumbent on the Minister of the day to fight on behalf of his Department and the interests that fall within his remit. Sadly, the Minister lost the battle. He could have told the Department of Finance and the Minister concerned that the economy is growing and there will be an extra €1 billion in revenue available to the State for the budget this year. He could have rolled the €600 million to which he referred over six years, which would be 10% of the additional moneys available this year and probably a lesser percentage if the growth projections remain on target for the next five or six years.
The Minister could have told them to look at the Ireland Strategic Investment Fund and consider it as a commercial investment, in terms of the part that would be commercial. As the Minister knows, whatever contractor ultimately wins the battle will have to go to the marketplace for finance. It is very possible that the winner could eventually be funded through the Ireland Strategic Investment Fund because it has the capacity to invest in commercial entities. The back-end of this contract will be commercial because the gap in the middle is being filled by the State.
It is very possible that the State will provide money through the Ireland Strategic Investment Fund to the ultimate contractor. The Minister will fill the gap in funding and the project will reside in the hands of a multinational that will have the capacity before the ending of the contract to flip the assets and make significant profits for the company concerned.
I speak with some knowledge of and interest in this area. In the past, my party took a decision which at the time seemed like the correct one. All of the discussion and political consensus in the House and in Europe at the time was that it was in the best interests of the State to sell Eircom. We were told the return to the State would build more schools, water and sewerage schemes and public housing. As a result of that decision, which was taken in good faith by all concerned at the time, there were significant delays in the roll-out of broadband which has put us well behind the European average in terms of the penetration of broadband.
That happened because we did not have the capacity to control access to and investment in the network. The vulture funds that played fast and loose with the asset that is now Eir's asset in order to make a profit for themselves in the short-term jockeying of resources left Ireland, in particular the parts the Minister and I know best, those areas we seek to represent, in a difficult position.
Many speakers will catalogue the various enterprises that have failed to get appropriate speeds in order to be able to carry out their business. There are personal stories of homes where junior certificate, leaving certificate or college students are failing to get access broadband to prepare reports, interface with universities and submit dissertations on time. We all deal with these issues in our constituency offices on a daily basis. We can say or do little other than to point out that Eir is a private company and, sadly, we have no more control over it.
I have been in the House for 13 or 14 years - the time flies. Sadly, on far too many occasions decisions are taken here that focus on the electoral cycle. Decisions are made to build schools before the next election cycle so that people can get a bunch of votes. That kind of planning should be consigned to history. We should look to a much greater extent to the future and put in place the kind of foundations that will build upon future necessities.
The spine that will be delivered in the network has major potential not just to deliver broadband to homes, but to provide the backbone for future generations of mobile phone technology. There is little doubt that Ireland has the capacity to be a mobile island in terms of the roll-out of various pilot projects by many social media organisations, all of which are now delivered in a mobile environment. We should be doing everything we possibly can to attract more activity into that space.
Handing this network to an environment that will ultimately fall into the control of private operators will not encourage that kind of investment and will have significant negative long-term consequences for the State. I hope that whoever is around in 25 years' time has the good grace to read the Official Report.
Deputies Lawless and Moynihan are sharing time. Is that agreed? Agreed.
This is a team effort, and I wish the Minister well in his efforts and endeavours to tackle the problem. Unfortunately, the record has not been good to date. I wish to take issue with one comment the Minister made, namely, that we are on time. We are patently not on time. I appreciate that the Minister was not in government in 2011, but the previous Government committed to 90% coverage by 2015.
In 2012 a task force was established under the then Minister, Pat Rabbitte, which committed to 100% coverage by 2020. These are noble goals and lofty aspirations, but unfortunately we are nowhere near them. We currently rank 42nd in the global rankings for high-speed broadband and in terms of international competitiveness, attracting foreign direct investment and supporting our own people, we are well down the league table.
I could quote statistics, but can speak more powerfully from personal experience. I live in Sallins, a town in the commuter belt of North Kildare, in an estate in a very urban area about five minutes' walk from the nearest train station. On a good day I get perhaps 30 Mb per second, which is not a bad speed, but according to the US authorities it is barely broadband. In fact, under 25 Mb per second is now considered to be narrow band according to US metrics. If I drive a few miles down the road towards Dublin to places like Kilteel or Eadestown on the Kildare-Dublin border, I find I cannot get broadband at all. These places are less than 18 km from Dublin city centre.
I have much sympathy for my colleagues in the west and other rural areas, but even in the greater Dublin area and hinterlands of the city there are places which have no broadband. In villages and towns like those in which I live, we might get 30 Mb on a good day. Many areas of the countryside cannot access any broadband. It is a major issue. Deputy Dooley has highlighted many reasons this issue is important, including educational, commercial and competitiveness considerations. That highlights the stark reality of the situation.
I welcome the national broadband plan, which we have been hearing about for five years at this stage. It is very well and good, but I would like to see it accelerated. There are also many things we could do as the framework is already there. I have worked with operators in Kildare and elsewhere to roll out broadband. Drawing from personal experience, I know that a number of obstacles exist, such as planning and technical anomalies that hold up progress. Even without the broadband plan, the tender and the significant investment and work programme that lie ahead, we could ensure progress is made today or tomorrow to strip away some of the impediments that exist. There are widely varying local development plans and contribution schemes. In some cases local authorities put exemption zones in place, and there are other anomalies. Any provider seeking to implement a wide programme faces multiple planning authorities with multiple approaches. The lack of a streamlined approach is a barrier to progress.
State subvention is required in areas where provision is not commercially viable, but once some of the barriers are removed the cost comes down and the commercial reality comes to the fore in many areas. I welcome the Minister’s commitment to transposing the EU directive. The target was 1 July. There are many common-sense ideas in it in terms of making the plan work and taking State infrastructure that is already in place and making it available. The directive is useful in that it refers to infrastructure in State ownership and the commissioning of public buildings. Another difficulty that arises is access. One could ask whom a provider in the market talks to if he or she wants to access a council building, a Garda station or a Coillte site. There is a lack of communications, understanding or responsibility in some State agencies. I put that to the Minister as an issue that must be addressed if the broadband plan is to work. We can transpose the directive, which is welcome and needed and is full of common sense, but we must go a little further and put a plan in place to manage the process.
Deputy Grealish referred to double-digging. Very few things get people’s back up more than a road being dug up again and again. There is a reference to ducting being provided in all new roads projects. However, I wish to add a caveat in that regard. The State can put ducting underground, but the issue that arises is how an operator would gain access to it, and, if it leases it, what the price would be. In some cases providers have told me it is cheaper for them to get a licence to dig up the road and lay their own cable, even if that is a foot away from the cable that was put in by the State. That is a bizarre situation. The State should acquire a fair market rent for the infrastructure but it should not be the case that providers have to dig up the road a second time just to make the process work for them.
Broadband is badly needed, and these are a couple of suggestions that could transform the market overnight. The national broadband plan is a lofty ideal. It is badly needed in many areas where it might be non-competitive and non-commercial, but there are quick fixes we could put in place in the morning. Such changes should be implemented immediately.
I welcome the opportunity to speak in the debate. I commend those who have tabled the motion before the House, thereby allowing Dáil Éireann to discuss this very important issue.
There have been two major infrastructure projects in this country – the ESB from the 1930s to the 1950s, and the installation of a telephone system decades later. Now we are rolling out broadband. A two-tier society is developing whereby there are those with access to broadband and those without. We have catalogued many companies, individuals and families who have made decisions to move to rural areas because of access to broadband due to the potential for improved quality of life and the ability to deal with work commitments. Nearly all Members who serve rural communities are aware of the situation. Agriculture is our greatest indigenous industry and it is very much regulated. The sector provides a fantastic product and now it is very much dependent on access to online services for record keeping and other purposes. There is a major vacuum in broadband services.
Some of those involved in the telecommunications industry made a presentation to Oireachtas Members in the AV room last week. A range of issues were raised, including mobile phone coverage. Deputy Dooley and I were members of a committee in the previous Dáil and industry representatives came before it as well. The fulfilment of the terms of reference in terms of the licence they have leaves much to be desired. The areas with poor mobile phone coverage 20 years ago are the same ones that lack coverage today.
The Minister has outlined the first steps towards providing a broadband connection for each and every citizen. There are great fears, especially in rural communities, in spite of the great plans. One initiative was announced between the ESB and Vodafone to share their networks and bring broadband to provincial towns, but it only brought broadband to areas that were commercially viable. The biggest issue is that between 30% and 40% of the land mass of the State has a difficulty with broadband reception. Many of the private sector initiatives around the country, such as for wireless broadband services, are hit and miss. We cannot get broadband in rural communities and we are disadvantaged because of that.
The Minister was a member of the same committee of which I was a member in the previous Dáil. I congratulate him and wish him well in the role, because it is very challenging. The previous two Ministers were from Dublin and, while they had the full facts in front of them, perhaps they did not appreciate the seriousness of the situation. I take it that, coming from the part of the country from which the Minister comes, he knows full well the seriousness of the situation that is facing rural communities. I was contacted by people from parts of Meath in recent years who are only 15 miles from O’Connell Street in Dublin but who have difficulty not only with broadband but also with mobile phone coverage. It is not just the people in the west or the south taking the pain; the problem is affecting areas adjacent to other regions as well.
I am aware the Minister is transposing the European directive. Where do we stand in terms of state aid? What agreement has been reached with the European Union and what stage is the process at? The Minister’s predecessor constantly told us a decision would be made, for example, by the middle of 2014. In 2015 he said the same and he also said more information was required by the EU. How far advanced is the process at the moment in terms of the European Union buying into the plan? The fundamental point about infrastructure must be made strongly because we are connecting Ireland into this century. Unfortunately, we are far behind the curve, but we are connecting all parts of the country into this century. No matter where one is or how remote it is, every single parish has people who stay at home or who are working from home and providing a fantastic service. We must embrace that as well.
In order to apply a proper spatial strategy in the future, we must ensure that remote areas do not become wastelands, with the population leaving because services are not available. A broadband service is as important in Kishkeam in County Cork as it is in O’Connell Street in Dublin. I urge the Minister to clarify the situation in terms of the European Union. One could ask whether we are building castles in the sand until it ponies up an agreement. We must ensure adequate broadband speeds are introduced because we saw what happened with postcodes last year when the emergency services did not buy into the system. Emergency services, by and large, are controlled from a central location, but the necessary backup does not currently exist. We must do a lot more work in order to ensure rural communities are connected.
I did not get the opportunity before, but I wish the Minister luck in his position. He and I would have talked many a time about broadband because we know the speeds down our neck of the woods, but I was baffled yesterday when I heard that we are not going to own the infrastructure. I would have wished that we as a nation would own that for the betterment of all. This will be the biggest infrastructure project since the electrification of Ireland. We have to get it right. We owe it to the next generation to make sure we get it right. For the sake of the revival of rural Ireland, we have to get it right. Yesterday evening, I looked at the news and saw that someone made a comment about water and had to resign. It is a pity that there might not be as much focus put on broadband, for the simple reason that we need to make sure. Right across the divide, from the people I talk to, there is unanimous agreement that we need this infrastructure to be owned by the State. Let us put it up, because this is a licence to print money. Private companies are interested in this not to lose money, but to make money.
When the Minister and I sat at the talks earlier we went through all this, but next June is when the contract will come out. There is no reason; it is bodies on the ground after that which will make sure. I have one question. Six months ago we talked about 80 Mbps; now we are coming down to 30 Mbps. Why are we doing that? We have to make sure we do the right thing now. I am not blaming the Minister, but I ask him to go back to the Cabinet and ask it to try to put the infrastructure in the hands of the State, for the simple reason that this is for the future. In ten, 15, 20 or 30 years down the line the decisions that politicians make here will be the ones that will help future generations. In all parts of rural Ireland, broadband is crucial. We are talking about regional development. We have to make sure it is delivered as fast as possible. I know that the legislation has to comply with the directive, but I ask the Minister to go back again and make sure that the State will handle the infrastructure, and that all the private companies run it after that.
I now call on Deputy Stanley, who is sharing time with Deputies Peadar Tóibín and Gerry Adams. Deputy Stanley and Deputy Tóibín will take four minutes each and Deputy Adams two minutes. Is that agreed?
That is agreed. I formally move amendment No. 1 from Sinn Féin to this Private Members' motion.
The Deputy cannot move it until amendment No. 2 is taken. He can discuss it but he cannot move it.
I think amendment No. 1 is listed first.
No. Under Standing Orders, amendment No. 2 must be taken first. The Deputy can discuss his amendment but he cannot move it.
The Minister has correctly identified the national broadband plan as a project on the scale and importance of rural electrification in the last century, but there is one clear difference. Rural electrification was and is in public ownership. This will be a much-valued asset. It is disappointing that the Government has not recognised the importance of keeping what will be a priceless asset in public ownership.
In the 1980s, the Government invested heavily in upgrading telecoms infrastructure, resulting in a network being built that surpassed Britain's or those on the Continent. I am glad that Fianna Fáil has come to a more Sinn Féin position on this, even if it is 26 years too late. They sold it off to venture capitalists. We have seen little investment in the past 26 years, with the result that the telecommunications network is now way behind our European competitors. The key difference is that we must have control of major infrastructure. The decision to hand broadband infrastructure to private capitalists is short-sighted in the extreme. The taxpayer and the State will have invested millions of euro, but it will be snapped up for profit.
I am sure we all agree that the national broadband plan has potential and is badly needed. We recognise that and we want to see this programme rolled out. It has significant potential to reinvigorate the whole island. In my constituency of Laois, and in south Kildare, places such as Borris-in-Ossory, Rathdowney, Portarlington, Graiguecullen and Monasterevin are all badly in need of this infrastructure. If we take MANs, when it was built, as I saw in my own town of Portlaoise, some people considered it as a white elephant. It has now developed across the country and is worth 20 times what it was when the infrastructure was put in. I have no doubt that this infrastructure, the rural broadband network, will be valuable also.
We have had a lot of talk of and a promise of new politics in this Dáil term. From what I am hearing, the Labour Party will do a U-turn as well and support Sinn Féin's position, so the majority of Members want this kept in public ownership. I want the Minister to go back to the Cabinet and have a chat. I heard the Minister trotting out the figures and the reasons, but he knows that is not the full picture. That is a debate for another day, to revisit this again and keep it in public ownership.
Last week, I attended a presentation in the AV room hosted by Deputy Bernard Durkan. It included most of the communications companies in the State. Deputy after Deputy took to the floor to castigate these telecommunications companies in the strongest possible terms over the desperately poor mobile and mobile internet coverage throughout the State. The level of anger was a sight to behold. Deputies were outdoing each other out of anger. I found myself agreeing with the Deputies wholeheartedly. They were right. A large area across the southern State is a no-man's land for mobile phone and mobile Internet coverage. People cannot do business, make social calls or even ring emergency services when they need them. We are talking not about far-off headlands in the west, but about a couple of miles outside major towns in the Dublin region.
On a separate occasion last week, my dog was barking and my son was giving out to the dog for barking. I laughed because that is what dogs do - they bark. In the same way, private companies maximise profits. That is what they do. They cherry-pick the most attractive elements of deals, invest in infrastructure to increase revenue streams and upgrade and maintain systems only on the basis of the income they generate. Shouting at a private company for maximising profits is as stupid as shouting at a dog for barking, especially if those Deputies doing the shouting are the Deputies who privatised the system in the first place. Many of those Deputies were the same ones who stood over the licence requirements necessary for those companies in the telecoms industry. An example of that would be the requirement for ComReg to measure signals, which means that it does not measure the quality of the signal, only that there is one. They measure only on the main road itself. We know that handing over systems lock, stock and barrel to private companies is a dangerous system that comes back to haunt Deputies afterwards.
The truth of the matter is that the privatisation of Eircom was one of the most damaging decisions made by any Government in this State. The subsequent owners asset-stripped Eircom for the benefit of their shareholders and to the detriment of families, business and communities up and down the country. It has cost the State billions of euro and has devastated the economic well-being of whole regions throughout the State. The decision was made on the basis of the intellectual fashion of the time. It was believed that privatisation was good and public ownership was bad. Unfortunately, that intellectual fashion is still firmly embedded in Fine Gael and maybe in the Independent Fine Gael Deputy we have before us today. The Government's investment in infrastructure is one of the best things a government can do because it creates efficiencies and competitive advantages now and into the future.
We have seen that investment collapse by about €6 billion over the past seven years. This process is part of that retrenchment from Government investment into State goods.
Regional development has been one of the biggest burning issues, yet we know that massive sections of our society are currently second-class digital citizens. However, the Government's response is to provide €200 million over seven years, which is €28 million per year. This particular Government plan is a hollow husk in response to a disconnected, forgotten and ignored community.
Mo bhuíochas don Rural Alliance, mar mhol siad an rún seo agus táim fíorbhuíoch go bhfuil seans agamsa labhairt ar an ábhar tábhachtach seo. Go n-éirí leis an Aire in a phost nua.
The provision of high-speed broadband to rural Ireland will make a huge contribution to the much needed regeneration of rural communities. It is also clearly the entitlement and right of those communities. However, the decision to opt for a privatisation model is short-sighted, deeply flawed and will ultimately cost the State and consumers much more in the future.
There is also widespread concern at the length of time that will now be needed to provide broadband access to all parts of the State. Last December, the former communications Minister, Alex White, told me in response to a parliamentary question that there are still 15,000 premises in County Louth to be covered by the new arrangement. The availability of broadband to that constituency will now be dependent upon the private sector provider. Six months ago, Alex White predicted that 85% of addresses in the State would have access to high-speed services by 2018 with all addresses being covered by 2020. The current Minister, Deputy Naughten's scheme would see that framework pushed back to 2022. Given the way these timeframes have been changed, how confident can we be that this new one will be met? When can households and businesses in Louth expect to be fully included in broadband?
Let me reiterate our opposition to the Government's privatisation proposal. Our firm belief is that broadband should be retained in State ownership.
I welcome the motion before the House. I have some technical questions to ask and will also request a further discussion on this issue here to discuss the more technical aspects of this plan. Perhaps that could be done outside the committee structure because every Member of the House has a vested interest in the issue and, while not necessarily being members of the relevant committee, they may be spokespersons in that area. That is the new paradigm we are in.
As I understand it, the options that were placed before the Minister were whittled down to two. The first, which the Government chose, is the commercial stimulus or gap-funding model whereby the private sector finances, designs, builds, owns and operates the network. There are contractual obligations within that model.
Second, there is the full concession model whereby the private sector again finances, designs, builds and operates the network, but the asset is handed back to the State after 25 years. My understanding is that going for the full concession model, involving a reversion of the asset back to the State after 25 years, would have had implications in putting the entire cost of the project on balance sheet. There would therefore have been an impact on fiscal space.
I did not hear the Minister's opening remarks but I think he referred to Deputy Howlin's earlier intervention about certain choices that have to be made by the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform. I will not get into a political tit for tat on that. However, the logic of opting for the fully privatised or gap-funding model is that the fiscal space would not be covered by the Exchequer's capital funding envelope.
I am seeking a discussion on the KPMG report which advised the gap-funding model. What was the legal advice in real terms for opting against the full concession model? I am told - and, to be fair, the Department has been open about this - that the full concession model was deemed to be significantly more complex from a contractual perspective. In addition, it would take six months or possibly longer to negotiate a contract. One tries to be as factual as one can but if one goes to a company like KPMG, or another external adviser in the private sector, on the law of averages they are not necessarily going to say that one should come back with a model that reverts the asset back to the State after 25 years. That is why I want to have a further discussion on this matter which warrants further investigation.
The KPMG report presented arguments in favour of the commercial stimulus model. A departmental document stated that this model placed all the technology and demand risk on the private sector, while costing the Exchequer less. In addition, the asset will rely extensively on commercially-owned third-party assets which will not be within the control of Government. That is one of the considerations which warrants further discussion.
There is cross-party support for this motion and we all have myriad examples in our own constituencies. However, anything we do now could be surpassed by new technologies in the provision of broadband. We do not know what kind of technology will exist in 25 years' time. I am not breaching the Minister's confidence in saying that we had a discussion on this matter previously; it was an open conversation. If new infrastructure is being created and the State is investing in it, a more conservative view would be to retain the network in State ownership because we do not know what will happen technologically downstream. That would be a more cautious approach. Is there is a mechanism to have a discussion here on how we would fund the cost of the full concession model over a longer period than the five or six years we are talking about? We can only talk in limited terms about the future fiscal space but if the capital envelope goes from approximately €275 million up to €600 million, which may be the true cost, is there room for such a discussion? This is particularly relevant given our relationship with the EU at present and given the new political realities that exist with the EU.
I know the Minister will say that this would slow down the process. I do appreciate that point and I am not trying to score political points. I noted Deputy Stanley's reference to a Labour U-turn, but in fact there is no U-turn on this. We are, however, trying to have as broad a discussion as possible so that we can future-proof what we are creating now. In that way, we will not give something away which we might have been able, with foresight, to retain as a public asset. That is the logic of what I am proposing.
However, we will support the amendment. Given that the scheme has now been announced and agreed at Cabinet, I do not know if the scheme has any legal standing beyond the fact that the Parliament will make its own voice heard on this issue. The scheme will proceed as agreed by the Government in the final analysis. Nonetheless, there is an opportunity to have a more detailed discussion about the KPMG aspect, and the full concession model versus the gap-funding model.
I would like us to have that discussion in a more detailed forum.
The next speaking slot is being shared by Deputies Mick Barry and Bríd Smith. Is that agreed? Agreed.
Last year, the European Commission digital score card report ranked Ireland 19th among the EU States for quality broadband access. We have some of the worst-served regions of Europe in terms of broadband service and we rank 42nd in the world in terms of high-speed Internet access, despite having the second-highest customer costs in the European Union.
The Government attempts to portray Ireland on the international stage as a modern country that is open for business to all types of multinational companies while in reality, in many respects Ireland is in the dark ages. Some 1,300 primary schools, 600 business parks and 40% of our population, mostly in rural areas, cannot access decent high-speed broadband. This is a major issue, estimated to cost 10,000 jobs annually to rural communities. There are some parts of the country that have yet to get broadband while in cities and urban areas commercial operators can offer very high-speed broadband because it is profitable for them to do so.
In 1999 the State sold off and privatised Eircom, thereby taking away the ability of the State to intervene and build the necessary infrastructure to ensure we have a modern telecommunications and broadband system. Deputy Dooley's statement earlier in this debate that there was consensus in this House in 1999 on the privatisation of Eircom is not correct. There was consensus between Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil but other Members of the House spoke out against it. Former Socialist Party member, Joe Higgins, warned that the privatisation of Eircom would be a disaster for all concerned and it was for the almost 600,000 ordinary shareholders who were burned, the workers whose jobs, wages and conditions were slashed and the public whose services, including broadband, declined. The only people for whom it was not a disaster were vulture funds such as Valentia and the employee share ownership trust, which asset-stripped the company to the bone and sold off Eircell. They walked off with huge sums of money of which they reinvested hardly a cent, leaving the company with huge debts. The State then had to step in and invest in different programmes to make up for the lack of private sector investment. Our disastrous broadband system is the price we are paying for that decision. It is a bit like the man who because he is depressed takes a drink only to end up even more depressed as a result of the drink. The State has privatised the service, the situation has worsened and the Government is using that situation to excuse further privatisation.
At the time of its privatisation Eircom had assets worth €8.5 billion. It was a leader in technology, it was innovative and it was investing. Had it been maintained it would have invested in and delivered broadband throughout the country as a State-owned company not operating on a for-profit basis. That is how we electrified rural Ireland through the ESB in decades past. The State now has to intervene to provide high speed Internet connections for more than 900,000 people because the market and the private sector has failed. Privatisation and the private sector, as we have seen from the privatisation of Eircom, fail to deliver basic services to people.
The Minister has announced plans to sell off and privatise infrastructure. This will result in another handover of taxpayers' money to private profiteers. We oppose the privatisation of this infrastructure. It must be retained in public ownership. The State should invest in and build the infrastructure directly rather than tender it out to private companies to build, run for 25 years and then own.
I want to speak to the Minister's announcement today rather than to the motion because the motion attempts to address the need for broadband but does not provide any detail on the model that its proposers claim would be best used.
The Minister has claimed with some justification that the national broadband plan is on a par with the electrification scheme which the State undertook in its early days. It is odd then that while acknowledging the importance of the broadband infrastructure to the State, he simultaneously announced that the State proposes to hand it over in the future to private company ownership. If back in the day Deputy Naughten had been Minister and what is proposed in respect of this so-called commercial stimulus model or the privatisation plan had been done with the electrification scheme, citizens at whom this motion is directed, namely, citizens living in rural Ireland, would still be reading by candlelight and this Chamber would probably be using candlelight to illuminate our discussions.
We need to dismantle the myths that surround the Minister's announcement in regard to privatisation of this crucial State asset. The Minister has told us that the cost of the infrastructure will be cheaper and that the money saved will be used to invest in climate change, housing and other great projects, with initial investment estimated to be between €500 million to €600 million. We need to know in what areas the remainder of the money will be invested. We know from experience that this is nonsense. As in the case of past privatisations, public private partnerships have always cost the State more money in terms of the service delivered and the longer-term costs to the taxpayer and the Exchequer. There will be no saving. Instead, the State is guaranteeing the future profits of the private company that wins the bid. This deal, unlike some of the worst done in the past, is extraordinary in that the State will never own the asset. Under some public private partnerships we aspire to own the asset, as in the case of the M50 toll plaza or the numerous development projects that went belly up, such as O'Devaney Gardens and St. Michael's Estate. We still do not fully own the National Convention Centre and we are paying massive rent on it. All public private partnership projects end up costing us more in the long term. The expertise and privatisation of the State sector is essential to the infrastructure of this project. As such, the State must contribute a large amount towards it.
There has been much talk about the need for proper broadband provision over the next 20 years. I was delighted to hear Fianna Fáil call for the nationalisation of the infrastructure. However, as stated by a previous speaker, the current problem was caused by Fianna Fáil's decision to privatise Eircom which resulted in no investment in the national broadband plan and our infrastructure lagging behind that of most countries. Instead of investment in growth by a nationally owned and controlled telecommunications company, Eircom, as famously described by Fintan O'Toole, was passed around various vulture and equity funds like a joint at a student party, loading debt after debt on the company, thus ensuring it did not invest in the manner necessary.
I support the Sinn Féin amendment. I reject the idea that the Minister came up with today, namely, that we sell-off and privatise this essential State asset.
The next speaking slot is being shared by Deputies Thomas Pringle, Maureen O'Sullivan and Clare Daly. Is that agreed? Agreed.
I welcome the opportunity to contribute to this debate, which is timely in light of the Government decision taken yesterday. I agree with other Members that that decision is, unfortunately, the wrong decision. In terms of the history of privatisation in this State, including the disastrous privatisation of Eircom and what it has meant for broadband provision throughout this State, this decision will go down as having been a very bad one.
The Minister's e-mail to Members yesterday outlining the Government decision refers to the stimulus model and the full concession model, both of which are financed, designed and built by the private sector. It is the State and not the private sector that finances both models. The issue that arises is whether at the end of the contract period the State has an asset or not. Based on the decision made yesterday, the State will have no asset at the end of this process. What the national broadband plan should do is provide a future-proofed infrastructure for the country and the nation, but we are going to give that away and we are going to pay the private sector to take it from us. That is what is wrong with this decision.
The Minister referred in his contribution to a notional benefit to the State owning the asset. However, in his communication to Members yesterday he stated that he recognised the potential long-term value in the State owning the network. Which is it?
Is it long-term value or a notional benefit? I believe it is long-term value, and that if we rolled out a proper fibre optic broadband solution to every house and premises it would pay dividends back to the State in terms of job creation, the development of rural businesses and returns to the taxpayer far beyond the cost of the period of the concession. The Minister has taken a very short-term view that is completely wrong. Unfortunately, it is part of the privatisation agenda that has been running through this and previous Governments, and we will live to regret that decision.
Sa chúpla nóiméad atá agam, ba mhaith liom caint faoi ghné áirithe den cheist seo, is é sin na fadhbanna atá ag muintir na n-oileán maidir le leathanbhanda. I know about this from my long association with Oileán Chléire but I think it applies to all islands. We know the difficulties and challenges facing rural Ireland, but they are compounded for those living on our islands. I hope the Minister will have the opportunity to visit some of them and hear at first hand. There is no doubt about the difference that high speed broadband will make in maintaining, supporting and advancing island life, thus enabling people to stay and encouraging others to consider island life. Having quality broadband will help create a more level playing field between island life and mainland life. It would mean additional activities and resources for children in primary schools and a bit of equality when it comes to extracurricular activities, because we know that for islands to continue, primary schools must last. Bad weather can prevent the ferry from running. We think about students on those islands who do not have a second level school there. They are prevented from getting to school, particularly leaving certificate students. Opportunities for online learning and adult education are other factors. There is so much that we can do during the evenings that we take for granted, but people living on the islands cannot do these things.
The same is true of work. I have met islanders who have moved in and who have businesses but who depend on broadband for translation, language consultancy, database applications and e-books, so having that broadband will enable them to stay on the islands. There are benefits for other businesses, such as the shops, the comharchumann and the ferry. The islands quite bizarrely lost out on the Wild Atlantic Way, so one can think about the scope offered by webcam live screening on the beauty of island life and the archeological sites. There is also the opportunity for a digital repository of island life, not to mention the advantages of what islanders in the Gaeltacht areas can do.
In the area of health care, there is the opportunity for the tele-health option, web-based health-related activities and medics, and islanders making those decisions without either of them having to make a 45-minute boat journey. The same is true with veterinary tele-health.
Can the Minister tell me if there is a specific strategy to service offshore islands? We know that cities and urban centres have excellent Internet speeds and distribution, but that is masking the problems for rural Ireland. Rural broadband is not a luxury - it is a necessity - and fair play to the Rural Alliance for giving us an opportunity to speak on this issue.
It says a lot when I can speak as a Dublin Deputy and sympathise with the problems relating to rural broadband. I am from north county Dublin, which is less than 30 km from this place. Parts of my constituency are not connected to broadband. They include Ballyboughal and Oldtown. It is an absolute indictment of years of mismanagement and delay and is quite frankly shocking. It is the reason we are joint last in Europe for fibre connectivity, yet the best-case scenario that has been put in front of us is to have a full roll-out by 2022. The idea that we will achieve the best value for the taxpayer, customers, businesses and communities with a privatisation model is lunacy. I do not know if the Government was thinking it could delay things for so long and have things so bad that people would say they will take anything. That is not going to happen. People know about the example of Eircom and will be very concerned about what the Government has announced in this regard.
The planned minimum download speed of 30 Mbps is pathetic. Everybody knows that it will be antiquated before it is even delivered. The Minister's own points yesterday left big gaps. We only need to look at what happened with the privatised bin service to see where this type of disaster can lead us when we hand over the State's obligations to private companies. It is very short-sighted, leaves big gaps in provision and will inevitably lead to price gouging. Yesterday, the Minister told us that he does not even have a universal service obligation worked out but that he would raise the question at EU level. Again, this is not good enough. I compliment the Deputies in the Rural Alliance on tabling the motion. It is a key issue for people all over this country. I firmly support the amendment from Sinn Féin in this regard because, while the Rural Alliance acknowledges a greater role for the State, I do not think it goes far enough. I am glad we are discussing it, but the Government must really go back to the drawing board.
The motion before the House is welcome. High quality, affordable broadband is critical for households, schools and businesses across rural and urban Ireland. Let us not forget that there are many parts of urban Ireland that have terrible connectivity as well. The national broadband plan is flawed in a number of very important ways, but it is nonetheless an ambitious plan and will put Ireland on the map in terms of digital connectivity.
The Minister is right to compare this to the electrification of rural Ireland in terms of the transformational effect it can have. It is a significant public investment and will cover about 900,000 homes and drive the availability of broadband in Ireland for the next 25 years and more. With this in mind, we must ensure that the fundamentals are right, and I suggest that several of the fundamentals suggested by the Minister are far from right. First of all, the minimum speeds are far too low. A speed of 30 Mbps now barely qualifies as broadband. Broadband is defined now as connectivity above 25 Mbps, yet we are putting in a national system that will have 30 Mbps. It needs to be at least 100 Mbps, and arguably far more than that. We need to see much more emphasis on consistency of speeds. Many businesses cannot afford the frequent disconnection that occurs. I am aware of a company in Wicklow whose connection is so unstable that it couriers its data to Dublin on disc rather than using the network.
There needs to be far more transparency in the system. There is no accessible asset register. Nobody knows where the backhaul is right now. There is no transparency in terms of business-to-business pricing. Nobody knows how much it costs and how much the owners of the backhaul network are charging. There is no accurate mapping of broadband speeds. We have nonsense figures from the providers. I set up a project in Wicklow under which we measured speeds, and there was no comparison between what the service providers were telling people they were paying for and what was actually being received. There is very little consumer representation at ComReg; in fact, people I have spoken to have suggested that there has been very serious regulatory capture.
Most importantly, I will repeat what Deputy after Deputy has said here. Privatising the broadband network is an extraordinary and massive mistake. It is not one of these little mistakes that people make all the time. The Minister compared it to the electrification of rural Ireland. We would never sell the power distribution network to Northern Ireland. Critically, we must look at who will be owning it. Two of the three short-listed bidders are companies owned by US investment funds. Think about that. Imagine a US investment owning Ireland's power distribution network. That is what is being suggested. What is going to happen? The network will be managed in the interests of the shareholders of those investment funds. This is critical social and economic infrastructure for the next several decades and it may be owned by investment managers from the US. That is bonkers. It is exactly the kind of thing that happened with Eircom. There was under-investment. We are now in this situation. I implore the Minister to go back to the Cabinet and say: "If it costs the State an extra billion quid over 25 years, thank you, we'll take it. We'll happily pay it." If the only other reason is that we would have to wait an extra six to 12 months over a 25-year programme, that is fine. Let us take it and own the thing at the end of that time.
This is a complex area of policy. It is not easy. I wish the Minister the best of luck because we need a good outcome. We need good broadband everywhere to lift our economy. I think this should go back to committee. We should sit down and go through the real detail and look at what the different options are, because the complexity is extensive.
There is a slight difference between broadband and water, electricity or other networks because there are three or four ways of getting broadband to a house. It can go through the TV cable, wireless and mobile but it is likely to be fibre broadband. If we looked in real detail perhaps we would come to the conclusion that we want fibre everywhere. Maybe it would cost us more but if we are investing for 25 years that is what we should be doing. One of the questions I would like to ask in committee is what standards we are setting and go into the real detail of different options so we can advise on it. I hope there is still a process included in the timeline to consider this issue.
The real issue is whether we are creating a monopoly by investing in 700,000 or 800,000 houses and providing a subsidised solution. Are we effectively saying it is the technology that will serve those houses in the coming years or do we expect there will still be market competition between other technologies at the same time?
If, as everyone is saying here, 30 Mbps is not enough, are we too late to consider faster, higher standards and go for a solution that will last 25 years, one which fibre broadband would provide? It might make sense to keep this in State ownership. If it is not in State ownership, we have to make sure that whatever rule is in place there is open access for other operators and that there is real flexibility in how it is used. It is those details we should be debating next week in committee. It would have been better if it had been done prior to the Cabinet decision yesterday and for the Cabinet decision to have been shared more widely. We would not have this heated debate here after the fact.
Is it too late to revise the funding or the ownership model? That is a question I would like the Minister to address in his response. If not, will he give time in the committee for us to consider the complex and technical options and see if it is possible to accept the amendments that have been proposed and put them into practice? Is it already decided and a matter now of how we have to manage? I would be very interested to hear in committee the full detail of what the Minister is actually doing.
I am delighted to address the issue of broadband here today. The importance of the digital economy cannot be underestimated. Broadband is a huge resource for businesses and there are significant growth opportunities for businesses that trade online. It opens up a global market for rural tourism and for small artisan producers. It is also a huge resource for schools, private homes and organisations. Without broadband, expensive electronic equipment such as white boards bought by primary schools is undermined and efforts by Age Action to promote computer literacy among the elderly are thwarted. Irish Rural Network estimates that up to 10,000 jobs are lost in rural areas every year because there is a poor broadband service or none at all. Our cities have world class Internet speeds and distribution but rural areas rank among the worst served regions of Europe. Rural broadband is no longer a luxury but an economic necessity. There is no more important issue in terms of economic infrastructure and the future prospects of rural Ireland. Broadband will make rural Ireland sustainable into the future. Since 2004 there have been four Government initiatives to improve broadband, all of which have worked to a point, but major problems remain. Broadband has become faster and more places than ever are served, but 40% of the population still lacks commercial coverage. Ireland has some of the most pronounced two tier coverage in Europe. High speeds in urban areas have obscured poor coverage elsewhere.
Only 35% of Irish premises have broadband speeds of 10 Mbps or higher. More significantly, only 69% of Irish homes have broadband faster than a modest 4 Mbps. Ireland ranks No. 42 in the world in the distribution of fast broadband services. Commercial companies advertise broadband speeds of 240 Mbps in cities and towns, while those in rural areas subsist on speeds of 1 Mbps to 2 Mbps or have no broadband at all. The digital divide has become a chasm. Some areas of west Cork have never had a broadband service. In areas such as Ballylicken and Skibbereen, subsequent to the merger of 3 and O2, many who had a broadband service have been left without one. To have a bad broadband service is one thing, but to be left with no service is absolutely unacceptable in this day and age. For some, having been customers of 3 for five years, their Internet service was taken without warning and they were told they would no longer have a service within the scope required to pick up 3G broadband. This has had huge consequences for those affected. Businesses are suffering, individuals are unable to work from home and people have been left isolated. The lack of Internet makes life extremely difficult. I call on the Minister to ensure a comprehensive investigation by ComReg to examine the reasons behind this and to ensure those who have lost their broadband service will have it reinstated as soon as possible.
I have very serious concerns for private broadband operators all over the country. Companies like Digitalforge in west Cork, which are serving communities, may find it non-viable to continue if the national broadband scheme is rolled out. In a statement to the Dáil recently, the Minister said that 60% of the country could be covered in two years. We all know where this 60% will be. It will be in areas that are well covered already. This could mean taking customers in built-up areas in that 60% from private operators and forcing them to shut down their business, leaving the major parts of rural Ireland and west Cork, which are part of the 40% that cannot be covered, without any broadband. This is a very serious challenge. I urge the Minister to sit down with these operators before this goes ahead and iron out the difficulties. While we all want a state-of-the-art broadband service, we cannot forget the private operators that have served rural communities well over the years.
I am encouraged and confident the Minister will iron out all the difficulties. We have had many discussions and meetings since my election. Today we are hearing worries about ownership in 27 years but the problems we have in rural broadband now is that there is little or no broadband.
Any discussions on broadband should include mobile phone coverage as similar problems exist and similar solutions can be found for the good of the country.
The most frequent request at the doors, when canvassing in general elections and council elections and at clinics and many other places, has been for proper broadband coverage. It comes from every sector - schools, farmers, business people, manufacturing companies, private residences, people working from home and students who want to study at home because they need to download information to progress. There are also those who wish to complete their entire courses from home and need to access information from lecturers which is often sent out at weekends when the students are at home in Kerry. The Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine wants farmers to fill out forms and make many applications online but the only line many of these farmers have is the clothes line in the back yard. Principal contractors who want or need to pay subcontractors or suppliers have to notify the details of the subcontractor or supplier to the Revenue Commissioners before they can legally pay them. Bed and breakfasts and guest houses need to advertise their rooms and facilities online and accept bookings online. In many parts of Kerry and rural Kerry that is impossible because they do not have the coverage. People in places like Sneem, which does not even have a bank, could pay their bills online but that is not possible. In much of this expansive area there is no broadband connection so they have to travel to Kenmare, Killarney, Waterville or Caherciveen, which are miles away.
I visited them all on Saturday.
They are seriously deprived in this regard.
The Minister went through too fast.
Mobile phone coverage is very poor. It is patchy. The coverage is diminishing at an alarming rate in places that had coverage previously. It is not a good sign when some industrialist arrives in Farranfore Airport and goes a mile out any of the three roads from the airport only to find he or she has no mobile coverage. That is not acceptable. It is denying us the prospect of bringing business into the county.
I welcome the interest and commitment of the Minister, Deputy Denis Naughten. He has promised that all areas and homes will be connected in the next three to five years. I am depending on the Minister to ensure, whoever the providers will be, that there will be no cherry-picking and that all rural areas, including places such as the Black Valley between Kenmare and Beaufort, and Glenmore in Lauragh, or any other secluded or remote area, will get the same service as the populated areas. I ask the Minister to ensure that he, or whoever will be Minister in the future, will be in full control and will keep these providers under their thumb.
Broadband is a necessity to attract business and investment into rural and western seaboard counties. Kerry is one of these. As we are starved for jobs at present, this lack of such infrastructure is depriving the county of many industries.
Every person should be entitled to this infrastructure as of right. It is not a luxury. Fianna Fáil and Sinn Féin put down amendments to the Minister's proposals, and I am worried about this as it could cause further delay. The people do not mind who the provider is, whether private or in State control, as along as they get a service. They are entitled to that.
Deputy Dooley remarked that it seems the Minister is a ram in the Dáil and a lamb at Cabinet. In my parish of Kilgarvan, there was a lady who used to feed a few sheep, rams and lambs for her elderly father, and she used come in and say, "Father, I am away more in dread of the lamb than I am of the ram". Deputy Dooley should be wary of the lamb and the ram.
We must call the proposer to reply in less than eight minutes. That means the remaining speakers' time will be shortened. I now call on the Minister of State, Deputy Helen McEntee, Deputies Peter Burke and Peter Fitzpatrick, and the Minister for Arts, Heritage and the Gaeltacht, Deputy Heather Humphreys. With a bit of luck, they have eight minutes. I ask them to be as fast as possible.
We will take two minutes each. I thank the Acting Chairman for the opportunity to speak on an important and timely debate, and I thank the Rural Independent group for proposing the motion.
Good quality high speed broadband is the lifeblood of modern living, whether it is business, education or leisure. Certainly, in the past five to ten years, the way in which we conduct our business, access public services, use mobile phones or even go about our daily lives has been totally transformed by the Internet. Understandably, the patience of many consumers, business owners and, indeed, politicians, has been wearing thin. We have had many plans, budgets and targets, but many people also have been left behind. There is a need for change. I am confident that the partnership Government is committed to that change.
As a Deputy for Meath East over the past three years, I have worked a great deal on this issue. I have worked with affected communities as well as the Oireachtas Joint Committee on Transport and Communications. In particular, I would mention Kentstown outside Navan in Meath, where Eir activated its exchange for higher speed broadband last year, with other companies coming behind it in providing the service. I thank the companies publicly for that because I have seen how a united approach among a community, public representatives and providers can yield positive results. Obviously, not every case has been that easy, and where commercial forces cannot or will not go, the State must go.
We have a duty to citizens, where there is a pattern of rural living, to intervene. This is why I welcome the renewed commitment by the Fine Gael and Independent partnership to the national broadband plan. As announced by the Minister, Deputy Denis Naughten, yesterday, the plan has a dedicated funding model, the commercial stimulus model, which is no longer in direct competition with other priorities such as health and education. That is what a 21st-century infrastructure model of investment demands - a dedicated and consistent funding stream. I note that some of the members of the Rural Alliance have already acknowledged that it is a good model.
Some speakers have raised issues with the minimum download and upload speeds. I believe that our first priority must be to lay down the national infrastructure; when we have the footprint and the mechanics of the national infrastructure laid down, it will be much easier to update and upgrade it. With no infrastructure in place, obviously, we need to start somewhere.
If customers have consistent issues with their broadband speeds, especially compared to those of their neighbours or what companies say they provide or are charging for, then we need clear protocols for them to raise their complaints and have them addressed. I would welcome the Minister's views on this. Perhaps ComReg needs to expand its role in that regard.
First, I wish the Ministers, Deputies Denis Naughten and Heather Humphreys, the best in dealing with this critical issue. The issue of broadband provision is a national emergency for Ireland. There are a significant number of rural areas throughout the country that do not have adequate coverage.
I understand the scale of the projects in terms of balancing state aid rules with the private sector and State provision, which can be difficult. However, I welcome that the mapping process has been completed throughout the country and that we are going to tender, because it is important that this provision is not delayed any further.
This is a critical issue for sustaining rural areas. For example, in a small village in north Westmeath there is a large manufacturing plant called Mr. Crumb, which serves the whole community by providing significant employment. It has won numerous business awards throughout the country and, indeed, exports to many European countries. However, it cannot get high speed broadband. That is a considerable challenge the company faces every day of its existence. Broadband is obviously critical to the sustainability of rural areas.
Another issue I have been faced with is that a number of the pupils in local schools have been unable to submit homework and projects as they live in rural areas. Essentially, they cannot get their projects in on time because their parents must bring them to rural centres which are covered by broadband. That is not good enough in this day and age. It is critical that a solution to this problem is not delayed any further and that we get the top-quality communications and broadband that the citizens deserve.
I welcome the opportunity to speak on this important topic. Rural broadband is an issue that affects many people in my constituency. I have raised the issue in this House on many occasions. In Louth, areas such as Carlingford, Lordship, Faughart, Hackballscross, Kilkerley and Knockbridge, and many areas in the mid-Louth region, badly need a fast and reliable broadband service. It is vital that these areas are not overlooked and are provided with the same broadband services as their counterparts in urban areas.
Over the past number of weeks and months I attended many briefings by the various service providers, which informed us of various statistics available on broadband coverage. It is simply unacceptable that time after time these providers will tell us that they have over 90% of the population covered. Even with 90% of the population covered, it still leaves 10% of the population not covered, and in almost every case this 10% of the population are located in rural areas. With this in mind, I welcome the national broadband plan. I welcome the fact that the awarding of the contract is expected in June 2017 and that within three years it is expected that 85% coverage will be achieved, with 100% coverage within five years. However, I wish to put on record my concern that the gap-funding ownership model has been chosen. My concern is that we will not have ownership of this network after the initial 25 years. I understand the reasons for choosing the gap-funding model over the full concession model, but I want to put on record my concerns on this issue.
I welcome the fact that we now have a national broadband plan and a timeframe to cover all premises that currently do not have access to high speed broadband. I look forward to the day when all premises in County Louth, particularly those in the rural areas of mid-Louth, Hackballscross, Knockbridge, Lordship, Faughart and Carlingford, will have access to high speed broadband that is on a par with their counterparts in the larger urban areas.
I thank Deputies Burke and Fitzpatrick, and the Minister of State, Deputy McEntee, for their comments supporting the motion.
The importance of rolling out high speed broadband to premises, schools and businesses right across the country cannot be underestimated.
The Government's national broadband plan aims conclusively to address Ireland's connectivity challenges by ensuring that every premises in the country has access to high speed broadband services. As Minister with responsibility for the revitalisation of rural Ireland, I recognise the national broadband plan is essential to the future economic prosperity and social development of rural Ireland. The plan will be delivered through measures to incentivise and accelerate industry investment and an ambitious investment programme by the State in areas where there is no economic rationale for industry to invest.
It is important the House recognises the sheer scale of what is being envisaged. The impact of the roll-out of high speed broadband on rural Ireland will be profound and lasting. The programme for a partnership Government commits to measures to assist in the roll-out of the network both before and after contracts are awarded. In line with this commitment, I recently commenced a series of meetings with local authorities and their chief executives to reinforce the importance of the roll-out of broadband and explain exactly what will be required of them. I told them I wanted to work closely with them to deliver for rural Ireland. I will be asking them to establish dedicated working groups to overcome any possible barriers and ensure there will be no unnecessary delays in rolling out this important infrastructure for rural communities.
I will also establish a number of regional broadband task forces, working with local authorities, local enterprise offices, Leader groups and other relevant agencies. By working closely with local authorities over the next 12 months, I want to ensure rural towns and villages are broadband ready once the State contract is signed in summer 2017. The regional task forces will help accelerate the broadband network build in rural Ireland by ensuring there are no local barriers to deployment and identifying priority areas for roll-out. I want local authorities to work with my Department in developing county broadband plans in preparation for the national roll-out. All the measures are designed to help ensure a timely roll-out of the network to counties.
I thank the Minister.
Would Deputy Mattie McGrath mind if I took another minute?
That is up to Deputy McGrath. By order of the House I must call him now.
High speed broadband will be a lifeline for rural Ireland. Awarding the contract is a matter for the Minister, Deputy Naughten, and we work very closely together, so it is of great interest to me. The reality is the gap funding model approved by the Government will deliver rural broadband more efficiently and cost-effectively. To go for the public ownership model, as espoused by Opposition Deputies, would potentially delay the delivery of broadband to towns and villages throughout the country. Rural Deputies are very conscious of this and we know what it is like to be without broadband. I do not want to see any more delays. We can think about what it was like 25 years ago when we did not have mobile phones. Look at what we have now. Technology is changing.
I thank Deputy Mattie McGrath for bringing the motion before the House. I also acknowledge those who work with Deputy Mattie McGrath, particularly his daughter, Ms Maureen McGrath, and their efforts on this Private Members' motion. I thank the Minister and his officials, who helped us as a group on the motion.
I am not alone in saying that we are in an ever-changing world and society. We, like many others from my generation, find ourselves adapting to the new technologies that were not present when we were growing up, from computers, laptops and iPhones to e-mails, Facebook and Twitter. It is far from the day when we would have to go to the neighbours' house as they were the only ones in the village who had a television or a phone at the time if we needed to get a message to someone in our neighbouring town or village. Not only do we as a society have to adapt to this, but we as Members of the Oireachtas, along with the Minister and the Government, must ensure adequate basic needs are provided to the citizens of this country. When I say "basic" I mean it because in the world we live today, Internet access in just a vital now as the water supply or sewerage facilities in a home. It is as basic as that. In today's world, when one is seeking a site to build on or a place to rent, one of the main questions asked is whether there will be proper Internet access at the location.
Access to high speed broadband is fundamental to the economic, social, cultural and the educational needs of our citizens but especially in rural Ireland, which has been extremely neglected when it comes to broadband connectivity. The national broadband plan, first published in August 2012, has been repeatedly delayed. The plan was to be completed in 2020 and now that will not happen. The Minister will get it done. The Government does not realise the real effect this is having on people's lives. My office gets calls daily with the general complaint being that fibre optic broadband is being installed less than 1 km away but it is bypassing the constituent.
I thank the Deputy.
Is my time gone?
Yes, unfortunately, as you are sharing with your colleague.
To conclude, I agree with the Minister's proposals. If we do not do it, we will be kicking the can down the road. It would be to agree with something that means nothing and worry about what will happen in 27 years. As my brother said to me a while ago, we do not know where we will be in 27 years.
I have been robbed of my time from both sides of the House, including by my colleagues.
Yes, vital moments.
I am thankful for the opportunity to address this motion. It is important because it is the first Private Members' motion introduced by the rural Independent group to the Thirty-second Dáil. It is a very important issue. Broadband was one of the major issues in my election campaign, as I am sure it was in the campaign of the Minister, Deputy Naughten, and other individuals. It is still a source of great frustration.
Broadband is the digital highway to the outside world, connecting us socially, culturally, educationally and, most importantly, economically. Areas across Ireland with poor broadband are at a serious disadvantage. It is not only rural Ireland that is suffering. In Clare, we have towns like Ennis, Shannon, Kilkee, Kilrush and Sixmilebridge that have very poor broadband, which is inhibiting the economic development in these areas. Schools are struggling to download educational material and pupils are struggling to complete research projects. Socially and culturally, low speed broadband means our young people find it very difficult to stay in rural communities. Elderly people are socially isolated because of the poor broadband in their areas.
Most important, economic growth and development is constrained by poor broadband. One cannot set up or run a business or sell online without adequate broadband. Broadband is as important to a business as electricity, and one expects to have electricity when one turns on a switch. At the same time, we expect high speed broadband when we turn on a computer or click on a mobile phone.
We are still in a precarious financial position. Brexit has unknown consequences and more than ever we need high speed broadband to be competitive. If the model chosen by the Minister, Deputy Naughten, is to save us €1 billion, it is the option to go for as it allows us to invest in hospitals, education, infrastructure and capital programmes. Additionally, it will speed up the roll-out of broadband. If we saw a delay of six or nine months on top of the current delay of six to nine months, people could become very frustrated. No constituent has brought to my attention concerns about ownership of the network. I am not concerned by who owns the wires bringing electricity to my home or my phone or fax connections to the house or my medical practice.
Who would have believed 25 years ago that we could connect to the outside world, enrol in education, work from home, grow business, exchange information and speak and see someone in real time anywhere in the world through the Internet? Most people are paying for very poor broadband now. They are not concerned by who owns the network or the cost and they are only concerned about when they will get high speed broadband. People are hungry for broadband. Who knows what communication will be like in 25 years? It is certain that it will be completely different from what it is today. Looking back 25 years, one could not believe the changes that have occurred. Nobody is worried about who is going to own the network in 2043 or 2044.
It is futile to worry about that. The broadband speed in my home is 0.25 Mbps. One can practically see the little bytes dropping into the computer. It is appalling. We cannot operate a medical practice efficiently and we cannot download files.
I commend this Bill to this House. We are finally about to start on a planned, coherent roll-out of broadband to every part of Ireland. There is no perfect plan, so let us get on with this plan and allow Ireland to enter the modern world as part of Europe and as part of the digital family.
Is amendment No. 2, in the name of Deputy Timmy Dooley, being pressed?
The ewe is missing and the lambs are lost. They have no mother.
The amendment falls. The amendment is not being pressed.
Is amendment No. 1 being moved? No.
Deputy Durkan should be the Ceann Comhairle, not the Leas-Cheann Comhairle.