Thursday, 28 November 2019
Ceisteanna Eile - Other Questions
National Broadband Plan Implementation
The national broadband plan is the Government's plan to roll out high-speed broadband to the 1.1 million people who live and work in almost 540,000 premises, including almost 100,000 businesses and farms and 695 schools, where commercial operators will not commit to deliver the service. The contract to deliver this service was signed on 19 November. Work will begin immediately. A deployment plan will be made available by National Broadband Ireland, NBI, shortly. All counties will see premises passed in the first two years. Over 90% of premises in the State will have access to high-speed broadband within the next four years. Approximately 300 community centres, schools, library hubs and local GAA halls in every county will be connected to high-speed broadband during 2020 to enable communities to get free public access to high-speed broadband. A list of these community centres is available to view on the high-speed broadband map on my Department's website. NBI will pass approximately 10,000 premises by the end of 2020 and approximately 115,000 premises by the end of 2021. Between 70,000 and 100,000 premises will be passed each year thereafter, with the roll-out of the network competed by 2026.
I welcome the roll-out of the national broadband plan. This new superhighway communications infrastructure will combat isolation in rural Ireland and foster population growth and development. This issue has been raised at the doors in recent years in the context of remote access, remote working, reduced commuting times and the compliance concerns of the farming population. A great deal of documentation has to be uploaded through web portals by those involved in farming and by people in rural Ireland who are seeking to avail of various services. High-speed broadband is needed for such uploading, for businesses like website design and for retail. A great deal of bandwidth is needed to design websites. Will the actual roll-out of the plan be done through the local authorities? Are there teams in place, particularly in County Limerick, to decide on which areas outside the hubs that have been chosen will be moved on first? I ask the Minister to make a statement on this matter.
I agree that the future potential of this technology is way beyond the benefit-to-cost ratios we use. It was estimated that there would be a 4% rate of participation in remote working, but we heard this morning that the rate is already 10% and is growing rapidly. I think that will be really valuable for people. It will allow companies to move to more regional locations because they will have confidence that these connections will be available. The roll-out of the broadband connection points has been agreed with local authorities, which have been involved in the selection of such points. NBI will set up the process of providing the 150 Mbps wireless connection to those points. With the support of the Department of Rural and Community Development, we will ensure those centres are properly equipped and functioning so people can use them. There will be different types and different standards of broadband connection points to meet different needs. There will be a sort of hierarchy of what they will deliver. All of them will be in place by 2020. The Deputy also asked about the detail of the wider roll-out. The country is being divided into 110 different boxes, each of which contains approximately 5,000 premises. As I understand it, the company will publish its full roll-out in early January. It has guaranteed that every county will have active laying of fibre during 2021.
I want to digress slightly from this issue by referring to the question of advertising mechanisms in community radio stations, which has been raised with me. Obviously, broadband will have an influence on this. It has been suggested to me that the advertising model for community radio stations is quite restrictive. A community station in my local area, West Limerick 102, has been running since 2005. The area from which it is allowed to gain advertising is confined to the region from which it broadcasts. It cannot go outside that area when it is looking for advertising. I will give the Minister an example of what I am talking about. The station in question cannot go to the next town or the next parish to-----
Will the Minister re-examine the advertising model for community radio stations? Strictly speaking, a radio station that is broadcasting from Rathkeale, for example, should not take advertisements from Adare, which is the next town, or from Limerick city. These community services have an impact on people in the area. There is a symbiosis between the city and the county. The directly elected mayor is coming. I am raising this issue in the context of online advertising, which has changed the landscape for these radio stations.
I will have to get the Deputy a separate briefing on this matter. I presume it is tied up with the licence issued by the Broadcasting Authority of Ireland to the relevant local station. I do not know what is the process for amending a licence. I will revert to the Deputy.