Thursday, 5 December 2019

Ceisteanna (3)

Dara Calleary

Ceist:

3. Deputy Dara Calleary asked the Minister for Rural and Community Development the operational details of broadband connection points that will be provided within the first 12 months of the national broadband roll-out; and the role of his Department in the task. [50957/19]

Amharc ar fhreagra

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

My question is on the national broadband plan, specifically whether the roll-out of the broadband connection points, BCPs, is still on schedule. Will they be available to people? What services will be available to those within those points?

I thank Deputy Calleary for the question. The broadband connection point, BCP, initiative will see high-speed broadband services bought to more than 300 sites in remote and rural areas across the country as a first phase of the national broadband plan.

BCPs are typically community centres, schools and sports clubs that will act as access hubs for local people, providing on-site access to the Internet. The sites have been deliberately selected in remote and sparsely populated areas that would not otherwise be among the earliest to receive high-speed broadband under the national development plan.

Many of these sites are on islands or in areas with widely dispersed and remote homes and businesses.

Further details on each of the BCPs are available on National Broadband Ireland's website, www.nbi.ie. As the initiative develops, additional information, such as opening hours and services offered, will be made available through the NBI website.

My officials have worked closely with local authority broadband officers in the first instance to identify the selected sites and, more recently, to help develop the facilities at each of the locations to ensure that full advantage is taken of the high-speed broadband once it arrives. I recently issued an information booklet, via the broadband officers, for BCP site owners. This document provides greater detail on the technologies to be used and how the connections will be made, alongside other relevant information.

I will host a workshop of local authority chief executives later this month at which I intend to highlight the role that BCPs will play in improving rural access to digital services.

My Department will also procure a provider, or providers, for the installation of access infrastructure at the connection points. It is intended that the winning tenderer will work closely with NBI over the course of next year to ensure that the approximately 300 BCPs are delivered within the first year of the roll-out of the national broadband plan.

I thank the Minister of State. Has he clarified precisely when those 300 points will be delivered? Will it be during 2020 or 2021? This plan has all the signs of making it up as we are going along. That has been the constant threat in terms of it. What will the speed of the connections be in each of these BCPs? What will be the cost? If I am the owner of a company, will I be able to access the BCP for my business? Will the security be in place for me to do that? Will I be able to use a BCP to work from home, for instance, if I am based in Dublin? What is the position on the procurement process for the operators? When will the Minister be in a position to announce the operator? If we are to believe the Minister's commitments in respect of BCPs being rolled out completely in 2020, we seem to be a long way off basic preparations in that context.

It will be within the first year of the broadband contract, which was signed last week. We are talking about 12 months from the signing of the contract.

To explain where the broadband connection points will be located, they will be in places such as community centres, schools, sports clubs, heritage and tourism sites, businesses and miscellaneous sites. There are four different types of broadband connection points. Category 1, which is internal access, could be a business centre situated in a public building that provides access to local businesses that may otherwise have to commute to access required broadband services. The Deputy asked me if people in Dublin can work from home. They cannot but they can work from this centre where they can access broadband to do their work.

Category 2, which is internal access, is a hot desk facility that is open business hours or on demand within business hours. Category 3, internal access, is a facility with limited public access that might be open a couple of hours a day or a few days a week. Category 4, which is external access, would be a local Wi-Fi hub. Most BCPs will offer a mixture of internal and external access to high-speed broadband. I assure the Deputy, because it is as much of a problem for me as it is for him in his constituency, that no stone will be left unturned in delivering these 300 sites as a first step.

The Minister of State wants 300 of these BCPs rolled out by this time next year. We do not have an operator. The Minister has not answered my question on the speed of connection that will be available at these sites. He has not answered my question on the cost to people. He gave me the general information that we have already. In his final reply, will he indicate what the cost will be, the speed, and when he will be in a position to award a contract to an operator who then will have to roll out 300 of these sites in six or seven months?

First, I reassure the Deputy that a process is in place. The procurement has begun. The cost of it will be determined by the procurement, as he knows well. There is a budget within the overall broadband cost but we will not know the cost until we get the tenders back.

Second, I assure the Deputy that every one of the broadband officers in the 31 local authorities is working closely with all the communities and providers of these hubs to make sure we deliver this on time, in partnership with National Broadband Ireland. This contract has been signed a week or two weeks at this stage, so we are progressing. I will be meeting the chief executives of each local authority to ensure they are completely focused on the delivery of this roll-out. I am also working closely with our Department officials to make sure that happens. I reassure the Deputy again that as and when we get the costs and the delivery of each one of the BCPs, it will be made known on the website. The Deputy has to understand that a process will be gone through but we will have them in place within 12 months of the signing of the contract.