I propose to take Questions Nos. 508, 509, 512 and 517 together.
As a State intervention, the NBP must comply with the requirements of the European Commission’s Guidelines on the application of the State aid rules on broadband networks. The Guidelines require, amongst other things, that Member States carry out a detailed mapping exercise to identify as far as reasonably possible those areas where intervention is required.
My Department recently conducted a public consultation to close the ongoing mapping exercise, seeking submissions from operators who wish to have their existing high speed broadband networks, or who have developed plans to invest in high speed broadband networks over the next 7 years, to be included on the Department’s High Speed Broadband Map. That consultation was extended twice at the request of operators, resulting in a total nine week period for submissions, and it closed on 30th September, 2019.
As part of the consultation, over 180 submissions were received from a variety of stakeholders, including 30 from large and small commercial telecommunications operators, with the remainder from local authority broadband officers and members of the public.
Operator submissions are assessed against the Department’s published assessment criteria. Operators submitting planned investments are required to sign a declaration that they will enter into a Commitment Agreement with the Department if their plans satisfy the assessment criteria and are accepted by the Department as being concrete and credible. Such declarations form part of the consultation findings.
The findings of the consultation will ensure that the State Intervention Area is up to date and that it reflects commercial operators’ plans and the responses from householders and businesses, in advance of a contract being awarded. This is an important element in the State Aid approval process with the European Commission.
On 15 November the European Commission announced its approval of €2.6billion of public support for the National Broadband Plan under EU State aid rules.