Wednesday, 25 April 2012
Topical Issue Debate
I acknowledge the presence in the Chamber of the Minister for Communications, Energy and Natural Resources, Deputy Rabbitte, to hear this presentation. The analogue television system is changing and we are moving to Saorview. The Minister has spoken in the House and responded to parliamentary questions on this topic from my colleague, Deputy Brendan Griffin. It is a big issue for people in west Cork and west Kerry in particular. RTE and Saorview have written to me confirming that 98% of the people in the country will be able to avail of the new service but 2% will not. Unfortunately, for those in west Cork and west Kerry, that 2% is primarily in our bailiwick and we are not satisfied.
An alternative arrangement is Saorsat, providing television services to the 2% not covered by Saorview. In total, 120 locations will be affected. Saorsat incurs significant costs for homeowners who wish to avail of it. Each household must pay €300 for Saorsat in comparison to the costs of those using Saorview. That amounts to three times the household charge foisted on many of my constituents in west Cork.
In addition, viewers will not receive the same service because they can only avail of two channels – RTE 1 and RTE 2 - and will not receive TV3 or TG4. The area has a proud sporting tradition, to which west Kerry has also contributed, and a language tradition so it is particularly ironic that we cannot receive TG4 in west Cork and west Kerry. It is a damning indictment of the proposals before us.
It is discriminatory that my constituents must pay an additional €300 when they will receive only half the service provided to their counterparts in the rest of the country. I appreciate that the Minister will say this is an operational matter for RTE but we know the relationship between the State and RTE. Furthermore, the licence there has been paid for years by the good people of Ireland. In west Cork, we have had many issues with RTE reception over the years. In Leap, a village near where I live, people fought for 20 years to get the RTE service. I was a teacher in Leap national school and one of the first essays I gave the children was on what the arrival of TV3 meant to them. I received a string of letters the next day welcoming me to Leap and telling me that they had only just received RTE 1 in the past six months. They spent 20 years trying to get the RTE service and fighting the good cause. They raised funds and had their own aerial erected eventually. RTE came on board eventually but now these people are being cut off. I plead with the Minister to talk to RTE about this matter, which involves cost. I do not want to see my constituents discriminated against.
I thank Deputy Jim Daly for raising this matter, which is undoubtedly a challenge and an issue on which we are focusing much attention. I am not setting out to deprive the children of Leap of their access to television; rather, the signal is being switched off across Europe and we do not have a choice in the matter. The challenge is to manage efficiently the switch off and the move to digital.
RTE has built, owns and controls the Saorview TV network and is responsible for the roll-out, coverage and operation of that network. This is in accordance with Part 8 of the Broadcasting Act 2009, which provides that the development of the RTE network is an operational matter for RTE and therefore not one in which I, as Minister, have a function. However, I have had enquiries made in regard to the situation in west Cork as raised by the Deputy and can now provide the following information. Section 130 of the Broadcasting Act 2009 Act provides that RTE must roll out a national digital TV network to the same extent as its existing analogue network. In this regard, I understand from RTE that the analogue network covers 98% of the population and the Saorview network will also provide 98% population coverage.
Work has been ongoing across the country to prepare the transmission sites for the move from analogue to digital terrestrial television. However, it is virtually impossible to cover 100% of the population by terrestrial means. Reasons for this include local topography, for example. While cover from a terrestrial network can never reach 100% of the population, RTE is conscious of the needs of communities and is making efforts to ensure areas with larger population centres are provided with the Saorview service. These areas include Glenties, Bandon, Carlingford and Dingle.
In addition to Saorview, RTE has developed Saorsat, a new free-to-air satellite service unique to Ireland to ensure the RTE television services are available to the remaining 2% of the population. Currently, Saorsat provides access to the RTE channels. TG4 will be available shortly. TV3 has not yet made a decision on carriage of the service. As soon as the decision is made, I will let the House know. RTE is not obliged to provide this satellite service and is doing so on its own initiative. I am informed that with this satellite service, Ireland will have a national TV network covering 100% of the population for the first time.
To provide further clarification to the House, I have been informed by RTENL that certain parts of Ireland, including west Cork have been serviced by transposers, self-help community systems and deflectors. These are not being replaced or upgraded by RTENL. Also, the license for the analogue system on which these community systems, transposers and deflectors operates expires at the end of 2012. Homes that currently receive television signals from these systems will have to adjust their aerials to point to a Saorview transmission site and some homes may need to use Saorsat. Should the Deputy have further questions about specific areas, I am happy to pass them on to RTE on his behalf. Information on coverage is available from the dedicated Saorview website www.saorview.ie. Information on Saorsat is available on www.rtenl.ie.
I appreciate the Minister's response and thank him for coming into the House to deal with this issue. The challenge I wish to bring up is that while nationally 98% of the population is unaffected by this, unfortunately in my area 98% of the people will be affected and only 2% will not be affected. The inverse applies in my area and that makes the situation difficult to deal with.
I appreciate the Minister's response, it contains some helpful pointers. It is progress that TG 4 will become available. I will take up the issue of some of the deflectors in the area with RTE, but there are additional costs and many people will end up having to get the Saorsat service. The majority of my constituents who will have to get the Saorsat service will have to fork out an additional €300 or go to SKY, where the basic package is approximately €288 a year. Therefore, it is much of a muchness financially. My constituents will be at a big disadvantage when this happens, but that is not what I wish to see for them. I thank the Minister for his response and will take him up on the offer to engage in further communication on this.
There are technical and topographical obstructions in the way of 100% coverage and I have sympathy for those in the situation described by Deputy Daly. I have asked RTENL to look constructively at this issue and at the problems arising, before the switch-off takes place, with a view to seeing what can be done for the viewers to whom Deputy Daly refers. As a result of him raising this issue today, I have asked RTE for an overview report on coverage in Cork and I will be happy to share that with Deputy Daly when it comes to hand. The Saorview network will cover virtually all - but not all - properties in the country. What is true of the digital network is also true of the analogue network, which did not cover 100% either. Saorsat is there as a fallback or fill-in solution to reach areas the network cannot reach.
Saorview and RTENL held an open day briefing for all Deputies and Senators a couple of weeks ago in a venue adjacent to this building, but, unfortunately, the event was not well attended. I do not know whether that was because it was not well advertised or because Members were otherwise busy. Perhaps that event should be repeated if colleagues feel it is necessary. It is important to acknowledge that RTE is putting an investment of some €70 million into this initiative. One would not have been able to rely on the private sector to invest that kind of money in coping with the switch-off across Europe. This is a good example of how a State company can provide essential infrastructure in circumstances where similar investment would not be forthcoming from the private sector.