Written answers

Thursday, 12 June 2014

Department of Communications, Energy and Natural Resources

Broadband Services Provision

Photo of Noel HarringtonNoel Harrington (Cork South West, Fine Gael)
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38. To ask the Minister for Communications, Energy and Natural Resources the progress since assuming office of broadband capacity and speed to the main towns of west Cork; the rural areas of west Cork and those more than 5 km from a digital exchange; the developments to the Metropolitan Area Networks, MANS; the progress he expects to achieve over the next two years to the broadband network in west Cork; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [24548/14]

Photo of Pat RabbittePat Rabbitte (Minister, Department of Communications, Energy and Natural Resources; Dublin South West, Labour)
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Ireland’s telecommunications market has been fully liberalised since 1999 in accordance with the requirements of binding EU Directives. The provision of telecommunications services, including broadband services, is, in the first instance, a matter for commercial services providers. These service providers operate in a competitive commercial market reporting to the independent market regulator, the Commission for Communications Regulation (ComReg). ComReg publishes data on customer access to high speed broadband at the national level only. This data shows that between 2011 and the end of 2013 the proportion of broadband customers accessing marketed speeds of 30 Mbps or more increased from 3% to 35%. It also indicates that the proportion of customers contracted at speeds of 2 Mbps or less reduced from 11% to 5%. ComReg does not publish any similar material by a county or regional basis. The Government’s National Broadband Plan, which I published in August 2012, aims to radically change the broadband landscape in Ireland by ensuring that high speed broadband is available to all citizens and businesses. This will be achieved by providing:

- a policy and regulatory framework that assists in accelerating and incentivising commercial investment; and

- a State-led intervention for areas where it is not commercial for the market to invest.

Since publication of the Plan, investments by the commercial sector are underway and in some instances have been accelerated in both fixed line and wireless high speed broadband services. Commercial operators combined have either invested, or committed to invest, over €2 billion in their Irish networks, delivering high speed broadband to homes and businesses.

As a result of this accelerated investment the addressable area required by the State-led intervention has been reduced by 30% since the National Broadband Plan was launched. While the commercial developments are welcome the acceleration of investment is largely contained to cities and towns. Consequently, the speeds that are available in these areas are demonstrably better than those that are available in more rural areas.

On 25 April last, I signalled the Government's commitment to a major telecommunications network build-out to rural Ireland, with fibre as the foundation of its investment, as part of the State led intervention under the National Broadband Plan. This commitment is a clear expression of Government’s determination to address the connectivity challenge in rural Ireland in a meaningful and sustainable way.

Central to the strategy will be a fibre build-out to locations in every county in the State identified as having no existing or planned enabling fibre network. It is intended that the fibre will be delivered directly to access points for homes and businesses, where service providers can utilise the fibre to provide high speed services to end users. The fibre build out will be part of an end-to-end strategy that will address all parts of Ireland that cannot access commercial high speed broadband services.

A comprehensive mapping exercise is underway in my Department which will identify those areas that will require a State intervention. I have published a county-by-county list of towns and villages which have already been identified for a fibre build-out. This list is available on my Department's website . Currently, a total of 108 areas in County Cork have been identified as requiring an intervention. This is an indicative list and is subject to the completion of the mapping exercise. Further locations may be identified as this process continues. Similarly, it may be determined that some locations on the list will be addressed by the commercial sector and will therefore not require State intervention. I expect that this mapping exercise will be concluded in the autumn.

I would point out that the EU Commission’s guidelines on State aid for high speed broadband infrastructure preclude Member States from intervening in regions in which private investors have demonstrated plans to roll out their own infrastructure within the following three years. In this regard, I understand that at least one network operator has published a programme to roll out 103 fibre-based broadband networks in County Cork by July 2016.

In tandem with the completion of the mapping exercise, intensive design and planning work is ongoing in my Department with a view to producing a detailed end to end implementation strategy for the State led intervention. It is my intention to conduct a full public consultation on the outcome of the mapping process and the proposed implementation strategy. EU State aid clearance will also be required for the intervention once finalised. This will be followed by a detailed procurement process with a view to commencing construction of the fibre network and provision of services in identified areas as quickly as possible

With regard to the Metropolitan Area Networks (MANs), I am pleased to advise that of the four MANs in West Cork, Bantry, Dunmanway and Skibbereen are in operation and are being used by a number of telecommunications operators, providing services to businesses in those areas. The fourth MAN, Kinsale, was recently completed and is expected to be in operation in the next few weeks.

I fully share the concerns of local representatives about the quality of broadband in rural areas. It is my intention to ensure that rural Ireland enjoys similar opportunities to urban areas by delivering an end-to end market intervention with fibre as a core component. In committing to a fibre build-out at the heart of this strategy, Government is determined to ensure that all citizens and businesses in the State have access to quality and reliable broadband.

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