I am pleased to have the opportunity to present the ESB (Electronic Communications Networks) Bill 2013 for the consideration of the House. The Bill is a relatively short legislative proposal, the purpose of which is to provide an explicit legal basis to enable the ESB to engage, now or in the future, in the installation or operation of electronic communications networks and services, either alone or by agreement with one or more other companies, and to provide for consequential matters.
The Bill also makes the necessary statutory provision to change the name of Bord Gáis Éireann to Ervia. In my view this legislation affords an excellent opportunity to enhance significantly the quality and availability of modern resilient and future-proofed broadband infrastructure through the use of the ESB's extensive electricity networks. This has the potential to extend the reach of fibre to the home broadband connectivity throughout Ireland. I believe it is a further important step in this country positioning itself as a front runner in tackling the broadband infrastructure deficit.
The ESB has identified an opportunity to use its electricity distribution network to provide telecommunications services in the Irish market. I understand the company has sought a joint venture partner with a view to providing such services on a wholesale-only basis. I am advised that this in turn could facilitate the delivery of high speed broadband services by retail telecommunications operators in the areas served. The legislation is merely for the purposes of enabling the use of the ESB's infrastructure and is not specific to any given project.
My Government colleagues and I consider this to be a very welcome development and one which is very much in the spirit of the national broadband plan. The plan, which I published in August 2012, commits to the delivery of high speed broadband throughout the country. This commitment is to be achieved by ensuring the environment is right to maximise investment by the commercial sector, and through a State-led investment in those areas where it is evident the market will not deliver. The plan also specifically commits to the use of State assets to accelerate the roll-out of high speed broadband infrastructure and services and recognises the role commercial State companies can perform in accelerating the roll-out of such infrastructure.
I remind Senators that the national broadband plan followed on from the publication of the next generation broadband task force report in 2011. The task force, which I chaired, comprised the CEOs of all the major telecommunications service providers in the Irish market plus representatives from some of the smaller players. It considered in detail a number of policy challenges including target speeds, spectrum, investment barriers, demand stimulation measures and the role of State assets in assisting broadband infrastructure deployment. The report of the task force and the subsequent public consultation undertaken by my Department laid the foundations for the national broadband plan.
I have advised the House on progress in implementing the plan on a number of occasions and would like to take this opportunity to provide a further update. Of particular note is the ongoing very significant level of commercial investment that is taking place in the fixed and mobile telecommunications market. In some instances, commercial telecommunications providers are investing in services and coverage that significantly exceed the targets they committed to when the national broadband plan was published. This is good news for consumers and business where high speed broadband services are being rolled out. It is also a vote of confidence in the broader indigenous economy.
Despite these welcome developments it remains the case that many towns, villages and communities, particularly in rural Ireland, will see very little of this investment. Ireland's widely dispersed population and topography means that there are some areas where it is simply not viable for the commercial sector to provide services. Intensive technical, financial and preparatory work to define the scope of the State-led investment committed to under the national broadband plan is continuing. This investment will facilitate the widespread availability of reliable and guaranteed high speed broadband. In parallel, a comprehensive mapping exercise of current and anticipated investment by the commercial sector is advancing. This exercise will identify where the market is expected to deliver high speed broadband services in the coming years and consequently the precise areas that will need to be targeted by the State-led investment.
In order to progress the State-led investment, a full procurement process must be designed and EU state aid approval must be obtained. The procurement process for the approved intervention will be carried out in accordance with EU and Irish procurement rules and it is expected that it will be launched in 2014.
As I mentioned, the national broadband plan promotes the use of State assets to accelerate the roll-out of high speed broadband infrastructure and services. The national broadband plan recognises that a number of commercial and non-commercial State bodies are already leveraging their existing assets to actively provide infrastructure and services to the telecommunications market. These assets continue to play an important role in improving broadband services and the plan commits to exploiting any further opportunities that arise, with a view to accelerating the roll-out of high speed broadband. The ESB is already providing telecommunications services utilising the electricity transmission infrastructure. The purpose of the legislation is to allow the ESB to leverage its extensive and robust distribution infrastructure to provide high speed broadband infrastructure in Ireland.
I understand from the ESB that it is considering proposals to provide such services, on a wholesale, open access basis with a joint venture partner. In August 2012, the company launched a call for expressions of interest in such a joint venture, attracting considerable interest from the telecommunications sector. I await with interest detailed formal proposals from the ESB in relation to the proposed joint venture. It should be noted that the legislation is not project specific and will allow the ESB's considerable distribution infrastructure to become available to the telecommunications market, even if the current joint venture proposals do not come to fruition. The ESB's detailed proposals are awaited and my Department's assessment will, among other things, include an assessment of the proposal's compliance with detailed and binding EU and national regulatory requirements in the electronic communications market.
The regulation of the liberalised electronic communications market is a matter for ComReg which is independent in its functions. Should the ESB enter the telecommunications market, either in the manner outlined or by any other means, it will be subject to all applicable provisions of the Communications Regulation Acts 2002 to 2011, related secondary legislation and, where appropriate, binding regulatory decisions imposed by ComReg.
I propose to outline the main provisions of the Bill. For the convenience of the House a detailed explanatory memorandum has been published and this provides a synopsis of the provisions. The Bill is relatively short consisting of nine sections.
Section 1 is a standard provision providing definitions for certain terms and words used in the Bill. Section 2, if enacted, will provide an explicit legal basis for the ESB to engage in the provision of electronic communications networks and electronic communications services where the company identifies a commercial basis for doing so, either alone or with any other company. The House will be aware that the ESB already operates a fibre network across its electricity transmission system.