Thursday, 15 October 2020
Saincheisteanna Tráthúla - Topical Issue Debate
Over the past number of months as the pandemic wreaked havoc in our society and the world, we have seen a societal change in terms of how people have conducted themselves since the first week of March. A significant number of people are now working from home and have adapted enormously in that regard. Students, from primary school children to university students, have worked from home. Those working in State jobs, multinationals, local and indigenous companies and manufacturing and everything else have adapted. Society has changed.
The great enabler of that has been the Internet and a good and positive connection to it. Therein lies the challenge for rural and urban Ireland. Parts of Ireland are classified as urban, but do not have great connectivity to the Internet. One of the great enablers of work is a connection to the Internet. Each and every day people from across my constituency contact me to ask when there will be an upgrade and what they can do to ensure they can continue to work from home and be engaged in education and society.
This is not just about work or education; there is a purely social aspect. With further restrictions added today, many people are keeping in contact through Zoom and every other mechanism available to them to try to maintain connectivity. The previous Topical Issue was about the connectivity of people. This is about connectivity to keep all communities going.
What are the plans to ensure there is a proper roll-out of broadband in the short term?
As we head into the winter of this pandemic, who knows where we are going to be in the weeks and months ahead. We want to ensure connectivity right across the country. The great enabler to ensure that there is balanced regional development is broadband.
I thank the Deputy for this Topical Issue matter. The national broadband plan, NBP, contract was signed with National Broadband Ireland, NBI, in November last to roll out a high speed and future-proofed broadband network within the intervention area which covers 1.1 million people living and working in over 540,000 premises, including almost 100,000 businesses and farms, along with 695 schools. The NBP will ensure that citizens throughout the country have access to high-speed broadband and nobody is left without this vital service. The NBP network will offer users a high-speed broadband service with a minimum download speed of 500Mbps from the outset. I should point out that this represents an increase from the 150Mbps committed to under the contract.
The current deployment plan forecasts that premises will be passed in all counties within the first two years and over 90% of premises in the State having access to high-speed broadband within the next four years. The high-speed broadband map, which is available atshows the areas in Cork which will be included in the national broadband plan State-led intervention as well as areas targeted by commercial operators. There are 273,548 premises in Cork, of which 79,424 will be provided with high-speed broadband through the State-led Intervention. A further 194,124 premises are areas where commercial providers are either currently delivering or have plans to deliver high-speed services. Government investment in County Cork in the national broadband plan will be €314 million.
As of 13 October, over 103,000 premises across 24 counties have been surveyed by NBI. Of this figure, some 13,000 premises have been surveyed to date in Carrigaline and Midleton, and network designs have been completed to deliver the new fibre to the home network there. NBI crews have started initial works for the build covering approximately 4,000 houses in the Carrigaline area, including Cullen, Templebreedy, Carrigaline, Ballyfoyle, Douglas, Ballyphehane, Glasheen, Mahon and Kilpatrick. Laying of fibre should start shortly with the first fibre-to-home connection expected around December this year.
Further details are available on specific areas within Cork through the NBI website which provides a facility for any premises within the intervention area to register their interest in being provided with deployment updates through its website . Broadband connection points, BCPs, are a key element of the NBP, providing high-speed broadband in every county in advance of the roll-out of the fibre to the home network. As of 13 October, 166 sites have been installed by NBI and the high-speed broadband service will be switched on in these locations through service provider contracts managed by the Department of Rural and Community Development. The 51 BCPs have now been connected with high-speed broadband in places around Ireland. The following BCPs in County Cork are now connected and the public can avail of public Wi-Fi at the following locations: Ballindangan Community Centre, Lissvard Community Centre, Aghabullogue Community Centre, Castletownkenneigh Community Centre, Whitechurch Community Centre and the T.O. Park Labbamollaga Community facility. Bere Island Heritage Centre has been installed by NBI and is awaiting connectivity. Further BCPs are due for installation by NBI in the coming months at locations including Aubane, Mealagh Valley, Glash, Courtbrack and Sherkin Island. Further details can be found at .
Clogagh and Ballycroneen National School will also be connected for educational access as part of this initiative. My Department continues to work with the Department of Education and Skills to prioritise other schools with no high-speed broadband within the intervention area in Cork for connection over the term of the NBP. While substantial progress has been made to date, the Covid-19 pandemic has had an impact on the delivery of the fibre network. The extent of this impact is currently being assessed and NBI has committed to put in place measures to mitigate the impact in as far as possible.
He did mention Glash which is about 1 mile from me and about 2 miles west of Newmarket, which the Minister would know well, and about 9 miles north of Knocknagree, with both of which the Minister has ancestral links.
Speaking of Kiskeam, some of the areas that were on the area national broadband plan and have been dropped off it are the areas I want to zone in on. The private operators, wireless etc. have moved in to fill a vacuum that is there because people want to get connectivity immediately. They are talking to their bosses and to their schools during this pandemic and asking how they are going to get broadband. There are places that are not getting broadband. The plan for the areas that would find it difficult to get connection may take three to four years. Is there a seriousness at Government level to try to move it more quickly because society has moved way beyond the political scene in the past number of months with working from home and so forth. It has made that leap. The State is duty bound to ensure that we have a proper roll-out of fibre broadband. I appeal to the Minister to see how we can move this more quickly. Can the intervention that is needed by the State be delivered through the various stages as fast as is humanly possible to empower all of the citizens of the island, whether they are from Kiskeam, Newmarket, Knocknagree or anywhere in between, to ensure this happens? Everybody has the experience of people who are working from home in various Departments and in various positions. We should be looking at everything to empower that to continue into the future. Gabhaim buíochas.
I am absolutely committed, as is the Government, to try to accelerate this programme to ensure it does deliver right across the country. If I can take Kiskeam as an example, my understanding is that one of the proposals there is that the post office may become the local connection point, where one could have a working hub for remote working in a social community-centred sort of way. As it happens, I met the Minister, Deputy Heather Humphreys, coming in here this evening and one of the items in her budget that I was very pleased to see agreed on Tuesday was €5 million for the provision of remote working centres within the centres of community where we could do exactly what the Deputy is suggesting, which is to try to create these working hub centres. I will follow up with An Post and with the Minister, Deputy Humphreys, to see if this is such a suitable venue.
Taking this as an example, we should use this moment right across this country to change and transform from a position of real difficulty and to accelerate positive things, particularly in rural Ireland. The remote working approach is very real and is happening now with hundreds of thousands of people. It will work best where there is a social aspect to it and has an enterprising crossover aspect that will come when one gets people working together and using community facilities. This will bring life back into the centre of villages and towns. Critical for that is the provision of broadband infrastructure. Without that nothing can happen. The national broadband plan will be transformative and will be seen in the end as being of historic consequence for this country because it provides the infrastructure of the future. It will be rolled out in the next four years and by definition has to go to every area and cover every single house. Beyond that we should be looking at how we can build up communities and that is what I sense from Deputy Moynihan and I fully support that.