The State is not a provider of telecommunication services, except in instances of clear market failure such as in the cases of both the National and Rural Broadband Schemes. Such interventions are always subject to EU State Aid clearance to ensure no unacceptable level of market distortion takes place.
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 affordable broadband provision. In total, there were 102 applications from persons living in County Westmeath (including 21 from the general area of Ballynacargy) who consented to receive offers of service from Internet Service Providers participating in the Scheme. Offers of service were made to all of these applicants during the period from April to the end of July this year.
The response to date by industry suggests that virtually all eligible applicants under the Scheme are capable of obtaining a broadband service from a supplier using one of the available technology platforms i.e. DSL, fixed or mobile wireless, cable or satellite. Obviously, where a commercial service is shown to be available, the State cannot intervene with a subvention for alternative services as to do so would be a breach of State Aid rules. 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 Government’s National Broadband Plan, which I published recently, aims to radically change the broadband landscape in Ireland by ensuring that high speed services of at least 30Mbps are available to all of our citizens and businesses, well in advance of the EU’s target date of 2020, and that significantly higher speeds are available to as many homes and businesses as possible.
The Plan commits to high speed broadband availability across the country – specifically: 70Mbps – 100Mbps will be available from the commercial market operators to more than half of the population by 2015; at least 40Mbps, and in many cases faster speeds, to at least a further 20% (and potentially as much as 35%) of the population during the lifetime of the Government; and a minimum of 30Mbps for every remaining home and business in the country, also during the lifetime of the Government.
During the preparation of the Plan, the commercial market operators indicated that they expect to provide 70Mbps to 100Mbps services to 50% of the population by 2015. The areas to be provided with those services will be determined by the commercial market operators. One of the first steps in delivering on the 30Mbps and 40Mbps commitments will be the completion of a formal national mapping exercise to determine the exact position in relation to commercial service providers’ existing and planned broadband services throughout the country. Preparatory work has commenced within my Department to expedite this mapping exercise.
The mapping exercise will identify the areas of the country where there is market failure in the provision of high speed broadband services. It will also identify where the market is expected to succeed and fail in the delivery of high speed broadband over the coming years. Until that process is complete, the precise areas of the country which will require State intervention will not be known. I would reiterate however, that the Government remains committed to the delivery of the speeds referred to above, to ensure that all parts of Ireland, including areas such as Ballynacargy, will have at least 30Mbps connectivity.