I propose to take Questions Nos. 241 and 242 together.
Providing telecommunications services, including mobile phone services, is a matter for the relevant service providers operating in a fully liberalised market regulated by the Commission for Communications Regulation (ComReg), as independent Regulator. I do not have statutory authority to require commercial companies to rollout services and make specific investments in particular locations. The ComReg consumer helpline is accessible at firstname.lastname@example.org and I would urge consumers who feel they have not received an appropriate response from service providers to make contact with the Regulator.
With respect to the quality of mobile telephony service in other countries, comparisons between Member States and within regions, can be problematic for many reasons, including the fact that the technical characteristics of mobile phone networks that determine coverage and capacity will vary between operators and locations. Other factors would include the characteristics of individual markets, including topography, population density, frequencies used etc.
Various initiatives are underway to improve the quality and coverage of mobile services and broadband throughout Ireland. Notwithstanding ComReg’s independence, I recognise the frustration felt by Irish consumers where telecommunications networks are not always delivering the services people expect. Accordingly, I specifically included in the Programme for Government a commitment to a Mobile Phone and Broadband Taskforce. The Taskforce worked with key stakeholders to produce a report in December 2016, available on my Department’s website, which contains 40 actions to alleviate some of the deficits. The Implementation Group I co-chair with Minister Kyne is overseeing implementation of the actions and comprises all key stakeholders responsible for delivery. This includes ComReg, who attend as both an action owner, and in an observer capacity in their role as the independent Regulator.
In October 2017, together with Minister Kyne, I hosted the first National Stakeholder Forum in Athlone. It arose from the Taskforce’s recognition that, given the rapid technological change and the emergence of new equipment and solutions to deliver telecommunications services, stakeholders needed an opportunity to raise concerns on impediments to the rollout of services. Representatives from the telecoms industry, Government Departments and consumer groups attended the event. Issues impacting on rollout of mobile networks were discussed at the Forum, and there were also some new recommended actions for the Taskforce to help improve services to consumers and in preparing for roll-out of the National Broadband Plan network, once contracts are in place. Following the success of the 2017 event, I plan to hold a similar forum later this year.
I published the third Taskforce Quarterly Progress Report in November 2017, which demonstrates that good progress has been made in delivering the actions. I plan to publish an Annual Report shortly. This Report will give an update on progress made on each of the 40 actions and will evidence the continuing progress, together with the sustained level of engagement between action owners and industry. The Annual Report will also contain a work programme for 2018, with new actions identified that will lead to improvements for consumers across Ireland.
The Taskforce’s achievements to date include:
- Revisions to Exempted Development Regulations to facilitate prompt roll-out of telecommunications infrastructure and to prepare Ireland for the roll-out of 5G mobile technology;
- Funding of all local authorities to assign a Broadband Officer;
- Close cooperation with local authorities to develop local digital strategies and to identify approximately 320 high speed Strategic Community Access Hubs to be connected at an early juncture after award of the NBP contract;
- ComReg’s development of a testing regime to check mobile handset performance which will inform consumers in choosing products and network services. ComReg will also develop a new network coverage map.
- Most local authorities applying waivers in respect of development contributions for telecoms development.
- Transport Infrastructure Ireland (TII) has constructed 80km of ducting on the M7/M8 corridor and 14km on the N25 in Cork, with more following in the coming months to help expedite infrastructure roll-out. TII is also reviewing the cost of duct access for telecoms.
All of these initiatives should assist in enhancing the quality of telecommunications services, particularly in rural areas.