Ireland's telecommunications market has been liberalised since 1999 and thus the delivery of broadband services is a matter, in the first instance, for private sector commercial operators which are licensed and regulated by the independent regulator, the Commission for Communications Regulation (ComReg).
Decisions by private operators relating to investment in infrastructure to provide broadband services, including the upgrading of an exchange, are taken purely on commercial grounds, having regard to the cost of service provision and the anticipated revenue returns from any such investment. You will appreciate therefore, that I do not have a statutory authority to direct commercial companies in this regard.
The Government has undertaken a number of initiatives to bring broadband to those parts of the country where operators have been unable to offer services on a commercial basis. In the case of one such intervention, namely the National Broadband Scheme (NBS), services are available since October 2010 from the NBS service provider, 3, to persons with a fixed residence or fixed business in each of the 1,028 Electoral Divisions (ED) designated to be covered under the Scheme.
A detailed mapping exercise was carried out prior to the roll-out of the NBS to determine which parts of rural Ireland could be included and which parts, by virtue of already having access to commercial broadband services, had to be excluded. That mapping exercise found that a number of commercial providers were active in the area referred to in the Deputy's Question and consequently it was not included in the NBS.
The Rural Broadband Scheme (RBS) was launched last year in recognition of the fact that despite the widespread availability of broadband throughout Ireland, there still remained individual premises that were unable to receive broadband provision, due to technical difficulties such as line of sight issues. This Scheme, which is being rolled out this year, is aimed at making a basic broadband service available to those individual unserved premises in rural non-NBS areas who wish to avail of such services.
The combination of private investment and State interventions means that Ireland will meet the EU Commission's Digital Agenda for Europe target of having a basic broadband service available to all areas by 2013.
The Government accepts that the widespread availability of high speed broadband is a key requirement in delivering future economic and social development. With basic broadband services now widely available across Ireland, the challenge is to accelerate the roll out of high speed services. The Next Generation Broadband Taskforce (NGBT), which I convened last summer, has had an important role to play in this regard.
I am pleased to inform the Deputy that the Taskforce report has now been published. The report notes that by 2015, over 50% of the population will have access to high speed broadband services with speeds in excess of 70 Mbps. The report also highlights areas where Government and industry can work together to facilitate the roll out of high speed services across Ireland, and particularly in areas where the case for commercial investment is marginal.
Following on the publication of the Taskforce report, I have also launched a 4 week consultation process. The purpose of this consultation is to provide further input to this important policy area. Thereafter, it is my intention to bring proposals to Government for a National Broadband Plan for Ireland. This plan will build on the recent excellent progress made and be informed by the findings of the Taskforce and subsequent consultations.