Tuesday, 30 May 2006
Noel Dempsey (Minister, Department of Communications, Marine and Natural Resources; Meath, Fianna Fail)
The sale of Eircom, which is not a State company, does not affect or change the regulatory environment in the telecommunications sector. The provision of telecommunications services, including broadband, fixed-line and mobile services is a matter in the first instance for the private sector companies operating in a fully liberalised market, regulated by the independent Commission for Communications Regulation, ComReg, in accordance with the requirements of the Communications Regulation Act 2002, and the transposed EU regulatory framework for electronic communications networks and services. I have no powers to directly influence the behaviour of private sector companies.
The telecommunications sector employs approximately 14,500 people and is worth over €4 billion. The Central Statistics Office's consumer price index shows that between 1997 and January 2006 telephone and communications prices have fallen by almost 25%. The price of fixed calls in Ireland is better than the EU average for both national and international calls for residential and business customers. Ireland has a mobile telephone penetration rate of 102%, which shows the appetite for consumers for these types of services and the variety of mobile services in the market including 3G services.
In comparison to other European states, broadband providers in Ireland, including the incumbent Eircom, were slow in launching competitive and affordable broadband services. However, the situation is improving rapidly and the current level of take-up is consistent with the stage of development of the market. Ireland is now the fastest growing broadband economy in the EU.
The Government is addressing the infrastructure deficit in the regions by building high-speed open access metropolitan area networks, MANs, in 120 towns and cities on a phased basis in association with the local and regional authorities. The Department also offers funding assistance for smaller towns and rural communities to become self-sufficient in broadband through the county and group broadband scheme. To date, over 150 projects have been approved for funding. A joint industry-Government fund of €18 million has been established for the broadband for schools programme, which will provide every school with broadband. This programme is almost complete with over 90% of schools broadband enabled.