The project referred to by the Deputy is supported by my Department under the Digital Innovation Programme.
The Digital Innovation Programme was launched in 2018 with the aim of supporting digital development in Local Authority areas for the benefit of communities.
Applications are required to meet certain criteria which include the project being Local Authority-led, and providing evidence that the project will take an innovative approach and provide a public benefit. Collaborative projects and projects that benefit multiple sections of the community are particularly welcome.
The project in Malin Beg is an initiative driven by local people and supported by Donegal County Council, who submitted a successful application for funding under the Digital Innovation Programme in 2018. The project aims to use a publicly owned building as a site for a mobile phone mast, providing the residents of Malin Beg with reliable mobile phone coverage. This is a service that local people and visitors do not currently enjoy.
A mobile phone operator has committed to partner with the Local Authority to ensure that the project is completed. The collaborative nature of the project could serve as an exemplar of development through cooperation in the field of telecommunications service provision, and could encourage other communities, Local Authorities and telecoms operators to collaborate in a similar way for mutual benefit.
Funding of €35,000 was awarded to Donegal County Council by my Department under the Digital Innovation Programme for the project. My Department did not provide any funding to the mobile phone operator.
A survey of the site was undertaken in February of this year which informed the detailed design of the mast, which is now in its final stages. Current estimates are that the project will be finalised before the middle of this year.
The expected benefits of this project are wide ranging, from social inclusion, to meeting the needs of local businesses. The area of Donegal in question has never had reliable mobile phone coverage, leaving local residents at a distinct disadvantage. The project will be reviewed to ensure that the learnings from the project are fully captured, including the extent to which this particular approach can be replicated in other parts of the country.