The feasibility of power communications technologies as a means of providing quality broadband infrastructure in the regions is a matter for my colleague the Minister for Communications, Climate Action and Environment but clearly, reliable high-speed broadband is essential to increase the attractiveness of regional areas for investment.
Delivering improved connectivity can enhance the growth prospects of small and micro businesses and create opportunities arising on a regional basis, such as, remote working, cloud computing and business efficiencies, all of which serve to diversify the rural economy.
High quality telecommunication infrastructure is fundamental to capturing new opportunities for entrepreneurship and improving regional and sectorial economic growth. Access to high speed broadband is crucial for the growth of small and micro businesses, as it facilitates digitalisation, improves their online visibility and expands their export base, as highlighted by ESRI research last year. According to this research, the online presence was vital in the facilitation of export participation by Irish services firms with many selling products online.
Enhancing Ireland’s international and national connectivity with adequate and competitively priced broadband service is also critically important to attract and sustain the current and future investments in ICT, digital media and other data intensive sectors. While the Irish economy is one of the fastest growing in the world, some regions in Ireland suffer from a lack of adequate critical infrastructure. In order to unlock the potential of regional locations, the Government, through the implementation of the National Planning Framework and the full roll out of the National Broadband Plan, is committed to providing adequate infrastructure which will increase the regional attractiveness as a location for inward investment.
Substantial investment has been made by the private and public sector to date which has significantly improved broadband offering in recent years, especially in urban centres. Since the publication of the National Broadband Plan in 2012, the commercial telecommunications sector has invested over €2.75 billion on upgrading and modernising networks which support the provision of high speed broadband and mobile telecommunications services.
Access to connectivity continues to improve. In 2016 1.2 million (52%) of all premises had access to high speed broadband, this increased to 1.6 million (71%) in 2018.
Complementing the commercial investment with continued Government investment through the National Broadband Plan intervention is essential in the delivery of a future-proofed network to support a high-quality affordable broadband service across all regions. Broadband and mobile telecoms services available in the State have improved in recent years, challenges in delivering high speed broadband services across rural areas (due to the relatively small and disperse population) remain.
I will ensure that my Department continues to participate with all relevant Government Departments to support the further roll-out of broadband and other infrastructure to facilitate job creation in the regions.