I propose to take Questions Nos. 96, 97 and 178 together.
The provision of telecommunications services, including broadband, is a matter in the first instance for the private sector companies operating in a fully liberalised market, regulated by the independent Commission for Communications Regulation, ComReg.
The role of Government is to implement regulatory and infrastructure policies to facilitate the provision of affordable, high quality telecommunications services, by competing private sector service providers.
However, it has been clear for some time that the private sector has failed to invest at the level necessary to keep pace with the demand for broadband. Direct funding has already been provided under the NDP 2000-2006 for the provision of backbone infrastructure and to upgrade local access infrastructure. My Department's regional broadband programme is addressing the infrastructure deficit by building high-speed open access broadband networks, in association with the local and regional authorities, in the major towns and cities. These Metropolitan Area Networks (MANs) will allow the private sector to offer world-class broadband services at competitive costs. The networks also offer towns opportunities to attract inward investment in advanced technology and knowledge based enterprises.
The Department also offered funding assistance for smaller towns and rural communities through the Group Broadband Scheme. The scheme is technology-neutral, allowing the community to select the most suitable broadband delivery platform for the area.
Despite private and public investment in broadband infrastructure there are still some parts of the country where the private sector will be unable to justify the commercial provision of broadband connectivity. Options to address these gaps in broadband coverage are currently being considered by a Steering Group comprising officials from my Department and representatives from ComReg. I expect to finalise proposals shortly.