The availability of a high quality, high speed broadband network and of reliable mobile phone coverage are essential components underpinning the connectivity and development of rural communities in Ireland.
In this context, the Mobile Phone and Broadband Taskforce was established in July 2016 to identify solutions to broadband and mobile phone coverage deficits and to investigate how better services could be provided to consumers prior to full rollout of the National Broadband Plan. The Taskforce published its final report in December 2016, which set out 40 actions aimed at addressing the issues associated with mobile phone and broadband connectivity, particularly in rural areas.
An Implementation Group, co-ordinated by my Department was established in early 2017 to ensure that the actions identified by the Taskforce are implemented in a timely manner. That Group published its first progress review in February of this year, highlighting a number of significant achievements which have been made. The review can be found on my Department’s website, www.drcd.gov.ie.
In terms of the actions directly under my Department's remit, the appointment of Broadband Officers in each Local Authority, which my Department co-finances, is impacting positively on increased levels of communications with the telecoms industry and in identifying and addressing barriers to the roll-out of telecommunications infrastructure. This has seen a tangible increase in broadband connections and the resolution of a number of mobile phone blackspots in rural Ireland.
Regular meetings of the Regional Action Group are held across the country, bringing together Local Authority Broadband Officers and providing opportunities to share knowledge and experiences and to investigate issues that will impact on the provision of rural telecommunications services.
Furthermore, my Department, in cooperation with the Department of Communications, Climate Action and the Environment, are exploring the feasibility of developing a standardised policy for accessing and utilising State assets for the deployment of telecoms infrastructure.
Outside of the work of the Implementation Group, my Department has provided funding to support the establishment of a mobile phone mast in Malin Beg, Co. Donegal. The residents of Malin Beg have never had a reliable mobile phone signal, leaving them at a distinct disadvantage. Thanks to the efforts of local community and the local authority, they will soon have coverage.
My Department also co-ordinated and supported Local Authority applications for the European Commission's WiFi4EU initiative. This programme will see EU funds made available for the provision of free, publically accessible WiFi. In the inaugural round of funding announced last week, 21 Irish Local Authorities secured funding for 59 projects under the scheme, worth €885,000 in total. My Department will make matching funds of up to €15,000 available for each of these projects, to support Local Authorities as they make free internet connectivity available to the public.