I propose to take Questions Nos. 168 to 170, inclusive, together.
The Digital Agenda for Europe set out specific targets for the achievement of high speed broadband services across all Member States. Ireland’s National Broadband Plan which I published in August last, aims to radically change the broadband landscape in Ireland by ensuring that high speed services of 30Mbps are available to all of our citizens and businesses 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 aims to deliver high speed broadband to all parts of Ireland through two principal means:
(a) by providing a policy and regulatory framework that assists in accelerating and incentivising commercial investment, and
(b) by providing a State-led investment for areas where it is not commercial for the market to invest.
The National Broadband Plan envisages that industry will be the key driver of investment with State intervention only where there is market failure. Since the publication of the Plan, investments by the commercial sector are underway in both fixed line and wireless high speed broadband services. There is evidence that industry is investing beyond the targets to which they committed in the Plan with investments of up to €1bn underway
In order to progress the State-led investment, a full procurement process must be designed and EU State Aids approval must be obtained. My Department recently launched a formal mapping exercise, the results of which will inform the level of Government interaction that may be required and the areas that need to be targeted in the State-led investment so as to deliver on the targets envisaged in the National Broadband Plan. It will also form a critical input to the EU State Aids application in respect of any State-led intervention and is a necessary prerequisite for State Aids approval.
Intensive technical, financial and legal preparations including stakeholder engagement will be ongoing throughout 2013 with a view to the launch of a procurement process in 2014.
Implementation of the National Broadband Plan will be complemented by the National Digital Strategy, the first phase of which I launched on 11 July last. It focuses on digital engagement, which will be crucial if we are to achieve the optimal economic and social use of the Internet by business, government and individuals.
The Government remains firmly committed to increasing the availability countrywide of quality next generation broadband services and to ensuring that citizens, businesses and all parts of society are motivated, empowered and have the requisite connectivity to interact effectively in a digital environment.