The provision of telecommunications services, including mobile phone services, is a matter for the relevant service providers operating in a fully liberalised market regulated by the Commission for Communications Regulation (ComReg), as independent Regulator. I do not have statutory authority to require commercial companies to rollout services and make specific investments in particular locations.
In terms of ongoing efforts to improve mobile telephony coverage nationally, the Programme for Government specifically included a commitment to a Mobile Phone and Broadband Taskforce. The Taskforce worked with key stakeholders to produce a report in December 2016 containing 40 actions to alleviate some of the coverage deficits across the country. An Implementation Group is overseeing the implementation of the actions and comprises all key stakeholders responsible for delivery. The Implementation Group meets on a quarterly basis and publishes quarterly progress reports on the implementation status of actions.
Now in its third year of operation, the Taskforce has addressed over 70 actions and continues to focus on issues that are negatively impacting upon the rollout of essential telecommunications infrastructure around the country.
Various measures are underway under the aegis of the Taskforce which will address mobile coverage deficits, particularly in rural areas:
- Work is ongoing in order to achieve a greater consensus around site selection for telecoms infrastructure and therefore improve mobile phone coverage.
- A focus group was established to provide guidance with respect to categories of location where high quality reliable mobile coverage should be made available as a priority. The report of the focus group was published on the Department’s website on 31 August 2018. It is anticipated that the output of the focus group should influence the actions of the mobile network operators in their work to reduce mobile phone blackspots. It will also inform future policy in the Department with regard to priorities for mobile phone service.
- A working group has been investigating the feasibility of developing standardised policy for accessing and utilising State and publicly-owned assets for the deployment of telecommunications infrastructure.
- ComReg has published a composite national outdoor coverage map, which will, in tandem with its work on handset testing and activities to raise consumer awareness, allow people across Ireland to optimise the services available to them.
- ComReg has developed a licensing exemption scheme which will enable households and businesses to use mobile phone repeaters to boost signals into their premises and bring immediate improvements in mobile coverage.
All of these initiatives should help enhance the quality of mobile phone and data services, particularly in areas currently experiencing a low level of service.