Dáil debates

Thursday, 12 March 2009

Other Questions

Telecommunications Services.

2:00 pm

Photo of Paul Connaughton  SnrPaul Connaughton Snr (Galway East, Fine Gael)
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Question 7: To ask the Minister for Communications, Energy and Natural Resources the progress being made on agreeing and signing the management contract for the MANs II infrastructure; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [10409/09]

Photo of Seán PowerSeán Power (Minister of State with special responsibility for the Information Society and Natural Resources, Department of Communications, Energy and Natural Resources; Kildare South, Fianna Fail)
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The engagement of a management services entity, MSE II, is the subject of a procurement process and is currently in the contract negotiation phase with the preferred bidder, eNet. I expect that to conclude by the end of March. Because it is a procurement process, it would be inappropriate for me to comment further.

All completed phase II networks are being managed, maintained and operated on an interim basis by the technical services firm, Magnum Opus, on behalf of the Department. Magnum Opus will continue to manage the phase II MANs until such time as an MSE II is engaged.

Photo of Simon CoveneySimon Coveney (Cork South Central, Fine Gael)
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How many of the 60 metropolitan area networks built under phase II are operating currently? Most of them have been there for more than a year.

Photo of Seán PowerSeán Power (Minister of State with special responsibility for the Information Society and Natural Resources, Department of Communications, Energy and Natural Resources; Kildare South, Fianna Fail)
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A total of 58 MANs covering 64 towns have been completed during 2007 and 2008. The remaining two MANs towns of Edenderry and Kinsale will be substantially completed during 2009.

Photo of Simon CoveneySimon Coveney (Cork South Central, Fine Gael)
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I asked how many are actually operating. We have spent €80 million putting that infrastructure in the ground. I am asking how many of the 60 MANs that are in the ground are actually lit up and operating, providing broadband services to the towns for which they were built and, most importantly, giving the State a return?

Photo of Seán PowerSeán Power (Minister of State with special responsibility for the Information Society and Natural Resources, Department of Communications, Energy and Natural Resources; Kildare South, Fianna Fail)
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Under phase I of the metropolitan area networks programme——

Photo of Simon CoveneySimon Coveney (Cork South Central, Fine Gael)
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I am asking about phase II.

Photo of Brendan HowlinBrendan Howlin (Wexford, Labour)
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Deputy Coveney should allow the Minister to reply.

Photo of Seán PowerSeán Power (Minister of State with special responsibility for the Information Society and Natural Resources, Department of Communications, Energy and Natural Resources; Kildare South, Fianna Fail)
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I am just saying that under phase I, a total of 27 have been constructed and all 27 are operational and open for business. Four phase II MANs are being used by services providers. They are in Killarney, Tralee, Longford and Carrigaline. A number of other requests have been received from service providers and they are being considered.

Photo of Simon CoveneySimon Coveney (Cork South Central, Fine Gael)
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I am trying to be helpful in this area, but I have raised this issue consistently since last July. The reason all of the phase I MANs are operating successfully and giving a good return to the State is that they are being managed properly by a management entity. As it happens that is eNet, but the company is irrelevant. It is giving a good return to the State on investment.

The management contract for MANs phase II was due to be finished by the end of last summer and the preferred bidder happened to be the same company that is managing MANs phase I, but that is largely irrelevant. Does the Minister agree the issue is the delay by Government to put in place a proper management contract for the 60 metropolitan area networks under phase II, which is preventing them from being managed properly and therefore used properly to give a return to the State at a time when we could do with sweating those assets and getting a significant return, which is feasible?

Photo of Seán PowerSeán Power (Minister of State with special responsibility for the Information Society and Natural Resources, Department of Communications, Energy and Natural Resources; Kildare South, Fianna Fail)
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I agree with the Deputy that it is vital that we get a return to the State but the engagement of a management services entity is the subject of a procurement process.

Photo of Simon CoveneySimon Coveney (Cork South Central, Fine Gael)
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What is the delay?

Photo of Seán PowerSeán Power (Minister of State with special responsibility for the Information Society and Natural Resources, Department of Communications, Energy and Natural Resources; Kildare South, Fianna Fail)
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As I said——

Photo of Simon CoveneySimon Coveney (Cork South Central, Fine Gael)
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The preferred bidder was chosen last July.

Photo of Brendan HowlinBrendan Howlin (Wexford, Labour)
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The Minister should be allowed to speak.

Photo of Seán PowerSeán Power (Minister of State with special responsibility for the Information Society and Natural Resources, Department of Communications, Energy and Natural Resources; Kildare South, Fianna Fail)
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We are in contract negotiations at present and we expect to conclude those within a matter of a few weeks.

Photo of Liz McManusLiz McManus (Wicklow, Labour)
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It is baffling why it is taking so long, especially when the Department has already had the experience with phase I. Perhaps the Minister can bring us through the process going back to last July. What exactly was involved? Were there a lot of meetings or is there a lot of documentation? What exactly went on over that period that it should take so long?

Photo of Seán PowerSeán Power (Minister of State with special responsibility for the Information Society and Natural Resources, Department of Communications, Energy and Natural Resources; Kildare South, Fianna Fail)
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As the Deputy will appreciate, for a variety of reasons these matters often drag on for a little longer than one would want. I do not have specific information at my disposal relating to the number of meetings that took place. I will make an effort to get it and pass it on to the Deputy. The process has taken longer than we would have wished but the good news, which we will all welcome, is that it will be concluded within a few weeks.

Photo of Liz McManusLiz McManus (Wicklow, Labour)
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Is the Minister not curious about this? Surely he has an interest in the way things work in his Department. Has he never ask why in God's name it is taking forever to do a relatively simple contract?

Photo of Simon CoveneySimon Coveney (Cork South Central, Fine Gael)
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We spent three hours yesterday in a committee with Eircom discussing the problems with rolling out next generation broadband infrastructure into rural Ireland. The State has spent €80 million putting in place that infrastructure and we are not lighting it up. It is nine months since the preferred tender was chosen and we have still not put in place a contract to make it happen.

Photo of Seán PowerSeán Power (Minister of State with special responsibility for the Information Society and Natural Resources, Department of Communications, Energy and Natural Resources; Kildare South, Fianna Fail)
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People may have been unhappy with the lack of progress in the early stages but more recently we have made significant progress in the provision of broadband throughout the country. A recent development in regard to the national broadband scheme will be welcomed throughout the country. We have put in place the necessary investment to ensure we do not have a digital divide in the country and that people have access to new technology. We will ensure in so far as is possible that everybody has an opportunity to avail of that new technology.