Thursday, 28 November 2019

Ceisteanna (15)

Pat Deering


15. Deputy Pat Deering asked the Minister for Communications, Climate Action and Environment the impact the provision of high-speed broadband in rural areas will have on remote working and flexible working arrangements; the impact this may have in tackling climate change; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [49341/19]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí ó Béal (6 píosaí cainte) (Ceist ar Communications)

The Minister knows that one of the most important announcements of the past number of weeks concerned the national broadband plan. It is long-awaited by rural Deputies like me. Many people have been waiting to see how they could change their working lifestyles or implement a more flexible pattern of working from home. What will be the impact of rolling out high-speed broadband to rural areas, with consequent remote or flexible working arrangements, in helping to tackle climate change as well as everything else?

There is no doubt the availability of high-speed broadband in rural areas will have a transformative effect. As I have stated, high-speed broadband will be the most basic service in the long term and will be thought of like rural electrification. We will look back on this as being a very important decision, with people probably being puzzled as to why there was so much controversy about it. The changes it will facilitate are very broad-based and home working is very definitely one of those. I recall from the estimates of benefits to be accrued in the cost-benefit analysis that currently only 4% of the working population avail of remote working. There are reports today that this has moved to 10% and many companies are now making a standard provision in this respect.

There will be an additional benefit in that in more rural locations, IDA Ireland and Enterprise Ireland will find it much easier to locate new investment because they will have the confidence that staff and employees can have access to high-speed broadband and the sort of connectivity that this provides. This has been a barrier to investment in the past. There is extraordinary potential in other areas, including remote health or remote education. As we have already seen in the past couple of years, we are increasingly dependent on connectivity to run our lives. This dependence will increase, which is why it so important that rural Ireland can be involved with the very same technologies as urban dwellers.

I thank the Minister for his reply. I come from Carlow, where 8,000 homes will be connected over a period and there will be €32 million in investment. People say we are an hour from Dublin but, as I have regularly seen, one can sit in a car for over two and a half hours to get to Dublin even coming here to work every day. It applies to many people. It is very important that this service can be up and running as soon as possible so people can get the opportunity to use it. I welcome the Minister's comments on IDA investment into rural Ireland getting more jobs into that area. Has the Department had any conversations with IDA Ireland on the fast-tracking of specific areas for broadband connections, which may help attract businesses to more rural areas?

IDA Ireland is always consulted in any of these initiatives. We have identified 300 broadband connection points right across the country in every county and there is a focus on more remote areas. Many are on islands that might otherwise have no access to such a connection. During 2020 we will deliver 150 Mbps capacity to those centres and some of them will be very significant; they could represent hot desk and enterprise hubs, while others will be smaller and community-related. In the long term, we are guaranteeing that all 540,000 premises will have access to high-speed broadband, which is future-proofing the process. This is fibre to the home, which is the highest standard of connection and it is protected against future needs. Within ten years it will offer capacity of 500 Mbps or 1 Gbps to business users. This will be transformative in enterprise development.

I thank the Minister for his reply. I emphasise again the importance of this project getting up and running as soon as possible. We must clarify the timescale of the initial roll-out of the scheme. We initially said it would happen in early 2020 but that is only six weeks away at this stage. What is the timescale for getting into the regions?

We will deliver the 300 broadband connection points during 2020 and also in that year the laying of fibre will commence in 15 counties, with 10,000 homes or premises to be connected. In 2021 we will see the big impact, with every county involved and 115,000 homes or premises getting connected. There will be 70,000 to 100,000 premises connected each year thereafter. There will be a major ramping up in the process, with 146,000 km of fibre being laid. It is a huge logistical operation.

Written Answers are published on the Oireachtas website.