The provision of telecommunications services, including broadband, is a matter for the fully liberalised private sector as regulated by the Commission for Communications Regulation. In response to underinvestment by the sector in the late 1990s in the infrastructure necessary to deliver broadband nationwide, the Government set aside an indicative €200 million under the National Development Plan 2000-2006. These moneys are aimed to fund creation of high-speed fibre infrastructure in towns and cities to facilitate the provision of broadband by private sector companies. A total of 19 metropolitan area fibre networks, or MANs, have already been built and a further seven are under construction. The networks are being managed independently on an open-access basis and offer the service providers access to high-bandwidth services at competitive costs. The MANs which have been completed are already carrying commercial traffic.
Phase 2 of the programme, which is now under way, will see the rollout of broadband infrastructure to over 90 towns with populations of 1,500 and to others which are not being provided with broadband by private telecommunications companies. Calls for proposals have issued in respect of 41 of those towns, including Bantry, and it is expected that contracts will be in place before the end of this year. Proposals will be sought for the remaining towns in the new year.
There are encouraging signs that the availability of broadband is increasing rapidly. A number of firms are advertising the availability of broadband connectivity anywhere in the country which is provided using a variety of delivery platforms including fibre, wireless, satellite and digital subscriber lines. Details of these firms, including prices and contact numbers, can be found on my Department's website at www.broadband.gov.ie.