I thank the Deputy and I am glad he raised the issue; as a rural Deputy it is very close to my heart. As Minister of State with responsibility for community development, natural resources and digital development, I work across both the Department of Rural and Community Development and the Department of Communications, Climate Action and Environment. I also chair the mobile phone and broadband task force which was established in 2016 to identify and overcome obstacles to mobile phone and broadband services.
As someone who comes from a rural area, I am keenly aware of the importance of access to high-speed, high-quality broadband services in rural areas and I engage regularly with my ministerial colleagues in both Departments to find ways to remove barriers to the roll-out of telecommunications infrastructure.
The Department of Communications, Climate Action and Environment has overall policy responsibility for the national broadband plan. However, the Department of Rural and Community Development works closely with that Department and with local authorities to help prepare rural communities for the roll-out of high-speed broadband.
The mobile phone and broadband task force, which is co-ordinated by officials of the two Departments, has successfully addressed a number of complex issues over the past three years, many of which will facilitate the roll-out of the national broadband plan when the contract for the State intervention area is signed. Quarterly progress reports on the work of the task force are published on the websites of both Departments, with the most recent report covering the first quarter of 2019.
The Department of Rural and Community Development also supports preparations for the roll-out of the national broadband plan through the network of broadband officers located in each local authority. The broadband officers are co-funded by the Department and provide a vital point of contact for industry and the public regarding telecoms issues.
The broadband officers are also leading on the development of digital strategies for each local authority. These digital strategies will enable communities to make full use of digital technology in their daily lives and will be particularly beneficial when the broadband plan is rolled out.