Tuesday, 4 November 2008
Question 105: To ask the Minister for Education and Science the number of schools in the broadband for schools initiative that have satellite internet, fibre, DSL and wireless; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [37152/08]
As of October 2008, 3,905 schools have been provided with broadband connectivity under the schools broadband access programme. As the Deputy will be aware, this programme is being undertaken in partnership with industry in the context of a Government-IBEC-Telecommunications and Internet Federation, TIF, agreement to provide local broadband connectivity to schools. The programme has three elements, namely, local connectivity to schools, a national broadband network and a broadband support service desk. Schools connectivity is being routed to the Internet through a national broadband network, which is supported by HEAnet and provides centrally managed services for schools such as security, anti-spam, anti-virus and content filtering.
Turning to the specific question, of the 3,905 local connectivity installations, 27% or 1,051 schools, have fixed line services, 26% or 1,028 schools, have wireless services and 47% or 1,826 schools, have satellite services. A further 72 schools have had broadband access provided under the Hermes and advanced deployment programmes and are not included in the 3,905 schools. The split of technology services across these 72 schools is 43 fixed line services, 25 wireless services and four satellite services.
Having regard to the usage levels observed by HEAnet, the Department has procured additional bandwidth from its two satellite providers to improve the broadband connection speeds for schools on this portion of the schools broadband network. The situation continues to be monitored closely. In addition, the Department has migrated schools to superior alternative technologies, where feasible.
The Department will issue shortly a request for tenders, RFT, for the next round of service. The priority for the new procurement process will be to ensure the broadband services to schools keep in line with national infrastructure improvements. The RFT will seek tenders which at least maintain the existing service that schools currently receive. Having regard to the general developments in broadband availability nationally, improved service offerings are expected to be received under the new tender process.
The Department also will collaborate with the Department of Communications, Energy and Natural Resources to pursue the Government objective of equipping second level schools with 100 megabytes per second of broadband connectivity and installing local area networks, as outlined in the consultation paper on next generation broadband.
While I thank the Minister of State for his reply, the figures are somewhat misleading in that according to my information, 1,577 schools have access to satellite-provided broadband, which is highly unreliable, weak and slow. If one is on a fixed-line connection, the further away one physically is from the local exchange, the weaker or slower is the signal. While the figure of more than 90% of schools having broadband connectivity appears to be satisfactory, the quality of that connection may not be. I have to hand an example of a school with 12 computers in which it is unusable, given the time it takes to download information or messages with file attachments. While the new round of tendering has been announced previously, the Minister of State has announced it in the House today. Can he assure me it will improve the quality of the broadband? That is the main complaint I receive from teachers in the school system.
First, there is 99% coverage of broadband in schools, rather than the 90% referred to by the Deputy. I cannot account for the discrepancy between 1,826 schools and the figure of 1,500 as suggested by the Deputy. I can only rely on the figures that were presented to me today. If some clarification is required, this can be considered.
As for the technology itself, the Deputy is referring to satellite provision. The Department must be technology neutral in respect of any tendering process. We are confident, however, that in the context of the great investment in broadband technology in recent years, this tendering process will offer extremely good value for money and will provide cutting edge technology to improve the standard, which I believe to be the core of the Deputy's question.
The standard that is aimed for by the Minister for Communications, Energy and Natural Resources, Deputy Eamon Ryan, in his next generation broadband announcement last July was both clear and ambitious. He seeks 100 megabyte per second broadband connectivity for secondary schools and wishes to ensure that such connectivity is wireless-based to the greatest possible extent. Although these targets are highly ambitious, they represent the correct prioritisation by the Government of the manner in which it wishes to have broadband in schools.
While it has been announced a number of times that the tendering process is due to be completely very soon, I am informed that some legal issues remain outstanding. However, they are at an advanced stage of finality and the process should be completed very soon.