Dáil debates

Thursday, 11 December 2014

Ceisteanna - Questions - Priority Questions

National Broadband Plan Implementation

9:45 am

Photo of Tom FlemingTom Fleming (Kerry South, Independent)
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3. To ask the Minister for Communications, Energy and Natural Resources when new generation quality broadband with speeds comparable to the broadband service that is available to customers on the east coast will be available to areas of County Kerry that currently have speeds of only 5 Mbps; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [47394/14]

Photo of Tom FlemingTom Fleming (Kerry South, Independent)
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There are large pockets of County Kerry where broadband reception is either very weak or non-existent. Ireland has dropped five places to 56th in the world in terms of broadband speeds, a performance that is worse than Mongolia which is regarded as a Third World country.

Photo of Joe McHughJoe McHugh (Donegal North East, Fine Gael)
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I thank the Deputy for his question. The national broadband plan aims to ensure that every citizen and business, regardless of location, has access to a high quality, high speed broadband service. This will be achieved through a combination of commercial investments and a State-led intervention in areas where commercial services will not be provided.

The commercial telecommunications sector is currently investing approximately €2.5 billion in network upgrades and I understand that over €18 million has been invested in broadband services in Kerry over the past 18 months. Approximately 1.6 million of the 2.3 million premises in Ireland are expected to have access to commercial high speed broadband services over the next number of years. These very significant investments represent a step-change in the quality of broadband services available.

On 24 November last, a public consultation on a national high speed coverage map 2016 was launched. This allows all members of the public, be they business or residential, to identify whether their premises-home is included in the Government's proposed intervention. It also provides detailed information on a county-by-county basis as to which villages and townlands are to be included. The map can be accessed at . The areas on the map marked blue will all have access to high speed broadband services of at least 30 Mbps from the commercial sector by end of 2016. The areas marked amber will require the intervention of the State. It is anticipated that speeds of at least 30 Mbps will be delivered through the Government's intervention and the network will be designed to cater for future increased demand from consumers and business.

The next steps in this process will see a further public consultation on a detailed intervention strategy in mid-2015. A detailed procurement process will be undertaken in order to select a potential preferred bidder-bidders towards the end of 2015. In this regard, the Department will design a tender in a way that maximises efficiencies and keeps the cost to taxpayers as low as possible. It is expected that the physical build of this network will commence from 2016. This complex and ambitious project is a key priority for Government. It aims to conclusively address current connectivity challenges in Ireland.

Photo of Tom FlemingTom Fleming (Kerry South, Independent)
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The reality is that in terms of broadband speeds Ireland is a two-speed country. While some cities and towns have excellent coverage, large tracts of rural areas are served by up to 200 Eircom exchanges that have not been upgraded and provide broadband speeds of only 3 Mbps to 4 Mbps. While I welcome the recent announcement, reiterated this morning by the Minister of State, regarding the upgrade and expansion of broadband services, it remains the case that by 2016 one third of this country will still not have access to any satisfactory broadband service.

I would like to outline for the Minister of State the situation facing a business in County Kerry, which indicates the current situation is anti-trade, anti-business and anti-rural Ireland.

Photo of Seán BarrettSeán Barrett (Ceann Comhairle; Dún Laoghaire, Ceann Comhairle)
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I must ask the Deputy to conclude. I will allow him in again.

Photo of Joe McHughJoe McHugh (Donegal North East, Fine Gael)
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The reason the Minister introduced this intervention last month is to try to address the challenge of broadband service provision in Kerry and other parts of the country that do not have access to broadband, be that for businesses, primary schools, secondary schools or at a domestic level. The focus now is on whether the mix in this regard will be a combination of wireless and copper or fibre. The process is a complex one in that we must adhere to EU guidelines in relation to commercial services. Where commercial companies are unable to access services, State intervention will be provided. It is crucial that people who feel excluded make known their situation between now and June 2015. There is already engagement on this issue between the Department and Kerry County Council and other local authorities but we must ensure this engagement is ongoing.

Photo of Tom FlemingTom Fleming (Kerry South, Independent)
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I was going to refer earlier to the situation faced by a business in Castleisland, County Kerry which employs more than 100 people and is a much needed facility in the area given the haemorrhage of much of its youth because of a lack of jobs. In this instance, to obtain the broadband service required for the business the owner has had to relocate two of his workforce to Dublin. Current broadband speed in Castleisland is 4 Mbps. Eircom has informed the businessman concerned that the cost to him to access its broadband service would be €40,000 over three years. Having made further inquiries he discovered that businesses in Dublin are charged €99 per month for a 120 Mbps service. It is unfortunate that this man has had to relocate some of his workforce to Dublin because of the discriminatory nature of broadband service provision in the Castleisland area. We need to move immediately to ensure a level playing pitch in respect of broadband service provision.

Photo of Joe McHughJoe McHugh (Donegal North East, Fine Gael)
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I share those sentiments and can relate to the Deputy's argument. I have come across similar businesses. In regard to the specific business in Castleisland, if the Deputy forwards me the details, I will discuss it with my Department officials and seek to have them engage with the company.

I also have responsibility for the Gaeltacht in County Kerry. Údarás na Gaeltachta is already engaging with the Department as part of the strategic consultation process to identify deficits and how we can move forward. Earlier I used the word "ambitious" in regard to renewable energy. With regard to broadband, we need to be strategically aggressive in our pursuit of broadband service provision. The situation in respect of the provision of broadband services is not dissimilar to that in which this country found itself in the 1920s with regard to rural electrification. Broadband is in a similar space to that of electricity in the 1920s in that it is necessary. As stated by the Deputy, we must do everything to combat the discrimination in terms of the rural-urban divide. I will work with the Deputy on any issues to do with County Kerry.