I propose to take Questions Nos. 252 and 253 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.
With regard to mobile telephony service quality 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 determining coverage and capacity will vary between operators and locations. Other factors include the characteristics of individual markets, including topography, population density, frequencies used etc.
The Mobile Phone and Broadband Taskforce produced a report in December 2016, available on my Department's website, containing 40 actions to alleviate telecommunications networks coverage deficits. An Implementation Group is overseeing implementation of the actions and comprises all key stakeholders responsible for delivery.
My Department and the Department of Rural and Community Development published the Mobile Phone and Broadband Taskforce Implementation Review 2017 on 21 February 2018, which comprehensively outlines the progress made in 2017 on the Taskforce actions. Of the 40 actions, 29 had been completed, with work on the remaining 11 carrying into the 2018 Work Programme. Following close engagement with stakeholders at the inaugural National Stakeholder Forum 2017, 23 new measures were identified for delivery in 2018. The outcome of discussions at the second Annual National Stakeholder Forum held in October 2018 informed preparation of the 2018 Annual Review report which will be published shortly together with the 2019 Work Programme.
Some of the Taskforce's key achievements to date in addressing mobile phone coverage issues include:
- Work by my Department and the Department of Rural and Community Development to achieve a greater consensus around site selection for telecoms infrastructure and therefore improve mobile phone coverage.
- Both Departments are working with a pilot group of local authorities to identify the issues associated with mapping local blackspots. This pilot exercise has been completed, with all local authorities having been asked to map local blackspots and identify infrastructure that could potentially be used to provide additional coverage on an economic basis.
- Establishment of a focus group to provide guidance with respect on categories of location where high quality reliable mobile coverage should be made available as a priority. The focus group report was published on my Department's website on 31 August 2018. It is anticipated that the output of the focus group should influence the actions of the mobile network operators in their work to reduce mobile phone blackspots, as well as informing future policy in my Department with regard to priorities for mobile phone services.
- Work underway by a working group which is investigating the feasibility of developing standardised policy for accessing and utilising State and publicly-owned assets for the deployment of telecommunications infrastructure.
- ComReg is delivering a composite national coverage map, which will, in tandem with its work on handset testing and activities to raise consumer awareness, allow people across Ireland to optimise the service available to them.
- Development by ComReg of a licensing scheme enabling households and businesses to use mobile phone repeaters to boost signals into their premises and bring immediate improvements in mobile coverage.
ComReg is providing expert advice to the Mobile Phone and Broadband Taskforce and has committed to implementing a number of actions designed to improve the service experience of mobile phone users. In late 2016, in accordance with its strategic plan and in alignment with taskforce actions, the Regulator commenced several projects to gain greater understanding of factors affecting mobile user experience, including the effect of building materials on indoor coverage.
In 2017 ComReg published the results of a survey, the first of its kind in Ireland, investigating Irish people's experience and perceptions of their mobile phone service. The survey involved over 2,800 face-to-face interviews and to ensure that the experience of those in rural areas were captured, the survey sampled a higher percentage of those living in less densely populated parts of the country. The full report can be found on ComReg's website at www.comreg.ie/publications.
In tandem with the work of the Taskforce, the release by ComReg of the 3.6GHz radio spectrum band, which has been identified at EU level as a primary band suitable for 5G rollout, will also contribute to addressing increasing mobile data demands and improve mobile coverage. Mobile operators' commercial investment has also resulted in improved services, following ComReg's 2012 multi-band spectrum auction. at least one operator has now in excess of 90% 4G population coverage.
All of these initiatives should help enhance the quality of mobile phone and data services, particularly in rural areas.