I propose to answer Questions Nos. 588, 590, 604 and 613 together.
The provision of telecommunications services, including broadband, is a matter in the first instance for the private companies operating in a fully liberalised market, regulated by the Commission for Communications Regulation. The Government recognises the importance of a balanced regional roll-out of broadband, and is taking a series of initiatives to support and complement investment by the private companies operating in the market.
An indicative €200 million has been set aside for the current programme of broadband infrastructure developments under the NDP 2000-2006. This includes funding for 19 metropolitan area networks in towns and cities across the country, the extension of digital subscriber lines by Eircom and Esat BT, the construction of a third national fibre trunk network by the ESB, and other regional broadband investment initiatives. In my recent announcement of the broadband action plan I outlined the proposals to stimulate broadband-capable infrastructural investment throughout Ireland. The key elements of the plan include the provision of broadband infrastructure in over 90 towns with a population of 1,500 people using community broadband exchanges and strategic fibre. A new group broadband scheme — similar to the group water schemes — is proposed for smaller communities to pool their demand and secure high speed connectivity from a range of service providers, with grant assistance from the Government under this scheme. A multiannual budget of €140 million has been committed to the broadband action plan in partnership with the local authorities and in co-operation with the telecoms industry here. Operational details for the broadband action plan are being finalised, and I expect to be able to make a full announcement shortly.
It is of course possible to obtain broadband services in most places in Ireland at the moment, using one of the satellite and wireless service providers such as Amocom Satellite, Digiweb, Media Sat, South West Regional Authority or appliedDot Solutions Ltd. A full list of approved providers can be obtained from www.comreg.ie or by telephoning 01-804 6900.