Dáil debates

Thursday, 7 February 2008

Other Questions

Telecommunications Networks.

4:00 pm

Photo of Michael NoonanMichael Noonan (Limerick East, Fine Gael)
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Question 9: To ask the Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment the communication he has had with the Department of Communications, Energy and Natural Resources to ensure next generation access style fibre optic broadband is readily available across Dublin for business; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [4217/08]

Photo of Michael AhernMichael Ahern (Minister of State, Department of Enterprise, Trade and Employment; Minister of State, Department of Education and Science; Cork East, Fianna Fail)
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This is making up for the five years when I did not answer a question.

The provision of top quality communications infrastructure in all regions including Dublin is essential for Ireland's continued growth and prosperity. The Minister for Communications, Energy and Natural Resources is well aware of my views on the issues of communications infrastructure and in particular next generation access style fibre optic broadband.

The Department of Communications, Energy and Natural Resources is finalising a policy paper on the optimum role of Government in the development of next generation broadband in Ireland. The paper will examine the developments in the broadband market in Ireland and internationally and consider a wide range of issues, including the possible use of existing State infrastructure, such as ducting, and how it can be used to support faster roll-out of state-of-the-art networks by market players. The paper will be examined by an international advisory forum of telecoms experts to be established shortly by the Minister for Communications, Energy and Natural Resources. I understand that the paper will be published for consultation and submissions invited.

Photo of Leo VaradkarLeo Varadkar (Dublin West, Fine Gael)
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We all accept that Ireland has fallen behind badly on broadband roll-out because of the botched privatisation of Eircom, conducted by Deputy Penrose's constituency colleague. We have not recovered from that. Eircom, or the post-Eircom entity, will have to invest in next generation networks. What is the Department's attitude to the separation of Eircom? What involvement has the Department for Enterprise, Trade and Employment had in liaising with the Department of Communications, Energy and Natural Resources and ComReg in respect of the proposal to separate Eircom into retail and wholesale entities?

Photo of Michael AhernMichael Ahern (Minister of State, Department of Enterprise, Trade and Employment; Minister of State, Department of Education and Science; Cork East, Fianna Fail)
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The December 2007 Forfás report on Ireland's broadband performance and policy requirements found that broadband continued to grow strongly. At the end of June 2007, there were 698,000 broadband subscribers, including 45,000 mobile and broadband subscribers. According to the report:

Broadband take-up continues to grow strongly. Ireland added 6.6 new broadband connections per 100 inhabitants in the year to June 2007, the highest growth of all OECD countries. As a result, Ireland's ranking improved to 21st out of the 32 benchmarked countries in June 2007, compared to ranking 24th in June 2006. However, the broadband penetration rate in Ireland at 15.4 % still lags the OECD average of 18.8 %.

Ireland compares well on prices for 34 Mbit/s leased lines [. . .] but is relatively expensive for other broadband speeds.

The key issue from a business development perspective is the limited range and speed of broadband services available and their comparatively higher cost. The fastest speed that is widely available in Ireland (6 Mbit/s), costs four to five times more than considerably higher speed services in countries such as France, Germany and Hungary.

This must change.

Local loop unbundling, LLU, for current broadband needs and next generation experts for future requirements are the dominant issues for broadband in Ireland. According to ComReg:

Local Loop Unbundling (LLU) is a key wholesale product in telecommunications which provides the ability for non incumbent operators to provide new and innovative broadband products.

LLU is a process whereby a new entrant or alternative authorised telecommunications operator takes control of a copper cable from a local exchange to a customer premises in return for rental payments to Eircom for the purposes of providing telephone, broadband or other value added services.

Photo of Willie PenroseWillie Penrose (Longford-Westmeath, Labour)
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The initial roll-out of broadband coverage here was a pure cock-up. The big boys who got involved wanted only to give coverage to the major towns. The rural areas meant nothing. Residents of areas such as Westmeath and Longford create the highest demand for broadband. Is it not important to tackle this fundamental infrastructure deficit to benefit industries such as telecottaging, which comprise five or six jobs that are essential to sustain rural areas as well as being environmentally important? We must ensure that every citizen is treated equally in regard to broadband roll-out and that not just those living in vast urban areas benefit from it.

Photo of Michael AhernMichael Ahern (Minister of State, Department of Enterprise, Trade and Employment; Minister of State, Department of Education and Science; Cork East, Fianna Fail)
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I agree. It is a disgrace that broadband has not been developed. Last December, the Minister met with John McElligott, managing director of eBay, who had written to outline his concern at the pace of roll-out of high speed internet access. The Minister agreed with him and described the Government's actions in promoting broadband, including demands and further proposals for next generation networks. He said that the enterprise advisory group raised the issue of State investment in this infrastructure which the Government had to consider.

The Minister for Communications, Energy and Natural Resources asked Mr. McElligott for his views on next generation networks. Mr. McElligott said he intended to discuss matters further with the Minister. The Minister is well aware of the views of the Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment on communications infrastructure.

In respect of next generation broadband, the Department of Communications, Energy and Natural Resources is finalising a policy paper on the optimum role of the Government in its development, which is vital to ensure a state-of-the-art communications network. I hope the Minister for Communications, Energy and Natural Resources, Deputy Eamon Ryan, will have it to hand as soon as possible.