I propose to take Questions Nos. 321 and 322 together.
Ireland’s telecommunications market has been fully liberalised since 1999. It has since developed into a well-regulated market, supporting a multiplicity of commercial operators, providing services over a diverse range of technology platforms. A report on the “State of Broadband” published by the International Telecommunication Union (ITU) and the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) in September 2013 ranks Ireland 35th of 183 countries for fixed line broadband penetration per 100 inhabitants; 19th of 170 countries for mobile broadband penetration per 100 inhabitants and 31st of 192 countries with 79% of the population accessing the internet using broadband.
Comparisons of broadband statistics by the OECD and other statistical reporting bodies concentrate on the headline speeds or averages of broadband speeds marketed by the largest operators in each country. These reports demonstrate the international trend in markets delivering higher broadband speeds over time. These comparisons do not measure how accessible those higher broadband speeds are within countries. Such comparisons must be interpreted with caution, as the OECD itself advises. The most recent OECD report on marketed broadband speeds, up to September 2012, ranks Ireland 11th highest, equal with countries such as Australia, France, Germany, Switzerland, New Zealand and the United Kingdom for the highest marketed download speed available at 100Mbps. These tables do not, however, quantify the proportion of households, located in less densely populated areas, who cannot access these higher speeds.
The Government’s National Broadband Plan, which I published in August 2012, aims to radically change the broadband landscape in Ireland by ensuring that high speed broadband is available to all citizens and businesses. This will be achieved by providing:
- a policy and regulatory framework that assists in accelerating and incentivising commercial investment; and
- a State-led investment for areas where it is not commercial for the market to invest.
The commercial market is now delivering speeds up to 200 Mbps in areas served by UPC and eircom has announced plans to pass 1.4m addresses with its next generation broadband service, with speeds of up to 100Mbps. I have recently introduced legislation to enable ESB to utilise its extensive distribution network to provide next generation broadband services. In tandem with these developments, intensive work, including a comprehensive mapping exercise, continues in my Department in relation to the State-led investment to secure the countrywide introduction of next generation broadband access. In order to progress the State-led investment for areas where it is not commercial for the market to invest, a full procurement process must be designed and EU State Aids approval must be obtained.
Mapping data has been submitted to my Department by a total of 23 operators and the process of analysing the data and supporting information is continuing. The mapping data is being assessed on a case-by-case basis, having regard to the requirements set by the EU Commission in its “EU Guidelines for the application of State aid rules in relation to the rapid deployment of broadband networks”. When all of the information has been analysed, a clear picture should emerge of coverage throughout the country. I expect that this process will be completed later this year, after which it is my intention to publish a map showing existing and planned NGA broadband coverage, along with the Government’s proposals for a State-led intervention to roll out high speed broadband across the country.
The procurement process for the approved intervention will be carried out in accordance with EU and Irish procurement rules and it is expected that it will be launched later in 2014.