Tuesday, 29 September 2020

Ceisteanna (186, 187)

Alan Dillon

Ceist:

186. Deputy Alan Dillon asked the Minister for Environment, Climate and Communications the steps he is taking to accelerate the roll out of high speed broadband in rural Ireland in order to elevate the digital divide between urban areas and rural towns and villages; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [26532/20]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Alan Dillon

Ceist:

187. Deputy Alan Dillon asked the Minister for Environment, Climate and Communications the way in which he plans to address the broadband challenges facing higher education students when accessing online material as part of their new course curriculum comprising in some case 50% remote learning; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [26533/20]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Environment)

I propose to take Questions Nos. 186 and 187 together.

The National Broadband Plan (NBP) State led Intervention will be delivered by National Broadband Ireland (NBI) under a contract signed last November to roll out a high speed and future proofed broadband network within the Intervention Area which covers 1.1 million people living and working in the nearly 540,000 premises, including almost 100,000 businesses and farms along with 695 schools. The NBP network will offer users a high speed broadband service with a minimum download speed of 500Mbps from the outset. This represents an increase from the 150Mbps committed to under the Contract. The deployment plan forecasts premises passed in all counties within the first 2 years and over 90% of premises in the State having access to high speed broadband within the next four years. As of 29 September, design work is complete or on-going in target townlands across 23 counties and steady progress is being made with over 96,000 premises surveyed to date. This activity is increasing week on week and by year end, NBI expects to have completed some 120,000 surveys.  This activity involves physically walking the routes and documenting images, notes and measurements of the poles, cables and underground ducts in each area. This is informing design solutions for provision of the fibre network. This detailed design is then used to initiate the ‘make ready’ project with eir for the area, where eir ensure any poles and ducts being reused are fit for purpose. It is also used to initiate works with the subcontractors deploying the actual fibre in the area. The laying of fibre should commence shortly with the first fibre to the home connections expected around December this year. Broadband Connection Points (BCPs) are a key element of the NBP providing high speed broadband in every county in advance of the roll out of the fibre to the home network. Some 155 BCP sites have been installed by NBI and the high speed broadband service will be switched on in these locations through 'service provider' contracts managed by the Department of Rural and Community Development for publicly available sites and by the Department of Education and Skills for schools. Approximately 300 sites in rural areas are targeted for completion by the end of 2020 including 75 schools. My Department will work with the Department of Education and Skills to prioritise the remaining schools to be connected over the term of the NBP.  Further details can be found at https://nbi.ie/bcp-locations/.  While substantial progress has been made to date, the Covid 19 pandemic has had an impact on the delivery of the fibre network. The extent of this impact is currently being assessed and NBI has committed to put in place measures to mitigate the impact in as far as possible.The Covid 19 pandemic has also highlighted the importance of good reliable broadband to ensure that citizens across Ireland can avail of remote working, education and other essential online facilities. This is reflected in the commitments in the Programme for Government where delivery of the National Broadband Plan will be a key enabler to many of the policies envisaged particularly around increased levels of remote working. The Programme for Government has committed to seek to accelerate the roll out of the National Broadband Plan. In this regard, my Department continues to engage with NBI to explore the feasibility of accelerating aspects of this rollout to establish the possibility of bringing forward premises which are currently scheduled in years 6 and 7 of the current plan to an earlier date. Exploring the potential to accelerate the network rollout is being undertaken in parallel with the measures required to mitigate delays arising as a result of Covid-19.

In April 2020, all major telecommunications providers committed to a number of measures to help people stay in touch and work from home during the Covid-19 pandemic, with one particular commitment relating to the zero-rating of various educational and health related resource platforms. Since then, a number of operators have implemented further supports for consumers, such as third level students, who require a high data usage package, by increasing data limits on many existing packages and by the introduction of new packages with very high, or unlimited data offerings. The market for mobile packages with very high, or unlimited data offerings, is becoming increasingly competitive and this is positive for all consumers.