Tuesday, 21 February 2012
Department of Communications, Energy and Natural Resources
Question 424: To ask the Minister for Communications, Energy and Natural Resources further to Parliamentary Question No. 136 of 9 February 2012, the area in question must have been identified in error of having broadband services because there is no broadband available in the area, when will this anomaly be rectified; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [9739/12]
The objective of the National Broadband Scheme (NBS), which was launched in 2008, was to provide access to affordable, scalable broadband services to rural areas, where operators had been unable to offer services on a commercial basis.
The NBS, which was approved by the European Commission, sought to strike a balance between reaching as many un-served premises in Ireland as possible while minimising the impact of the scheme on businesses already providing broadband services in rural areas. In designing the Scheme, my Department undertook a comprehensive mapping exercise to assess the extent of wireless and DSL broadband coverage available in the State in 2008. To this end, it consulted and engaged with service providers active in the market at that time. Following completion of the map of broadband availability in the country and in order to implement the NBS, a separate map based on electoral divisions (ED), which are the smallest administrative areas used for statistical purposes in the country, was developed.
Following the decision to adopt the ED model, the Department was faced with a further decision to determine which EDs should be addressed by the NBS. This decision was taken on the basis of the levels, which existed at that time, of combined broadband coverage to the premises located within each ED. Where an ED was completely un-served by any existing service provider it was included under the scope of the NBS. Where it was completely or substantially served by existing service providers it was excluded from the NBS.
With reference to the general Sean Phobal area of County Waterford and in particular to the EDs of An Rinn, Baile Mhic Art, Dungarvan Rural and Ardmore (Dungarvan Union), the service providers active in these EDs in 2008 included Eircom, Three, Callidus and Amocom (now trading as Ripplecom) and Azotel. Under the methodology adopted by my Department, the EDs were deemed to be substantially served at the time and accordingly, were not included in the Scheme so as to guard against an unacceptable level of market distortion. This was a prerequisite of EU State Aids approval.
It is not possible to make a copy of the NBS mapping exercise available as it contains commercially sensitive information which was given to the Department in confidence by a variety of commercial broadband service providers.
It was always recognised that some of the EDs that were excluded from the NBS contained homes and businesses that were not served by any broadband service provider. EU competition rules governing market distortion prevented the Scheme from reaching those buildings. The more recent Government broadband initiative, namely the Rural Broadband Scheme (RBS), which was launched last year, aims to provide a basic broadband service to these individual un-served rural premises. It appears from my Department's records that of the total of sixty-four applications under that Scheme from County Waterford, a small number of applications were received from the Sean Phobal area.
The Verification Phase of the RBS has now commenced. In this phase of the Scheme, the details of applicants are being passed to Internet service providers to assess whether a service can be offered to them without intervention from the State. A total of 32 companies are participating in this phase of the Scheme. It is possible that a significant number of applicants could be served by these companies and a service will be procured for the remainder who cannot be served. It is hoped to have this service rolled out by the end of 2012. The Department has recently written to all applicants to let them know the position in relation to their application.