Tuesday, 1 July 2014
Department of Communications, Energy and Natural Resources
Broadband Services Provision
275. To ask the Minister for Communications, Energy and Natural Resources the reason broadband service of at least 100 mbps is not available to businesses and consumers in the north-eastern Kildare area; the measures that are being rolled out to address this issue; if he will provide an update on the progress of the exemplar network; if the scheme will be expanded beyond the Dublin area; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [28281/14]
Since market liberalisation, the provision of telecommunications services, including broadband services are delivered in the first instance through private sector operators who operate in a fully liberalised market, regulated by the independent regulator, the Commission for Communications Regulation (ComReg). The market has developed into a well-regulated market, supporting a multiplicity of commercial operators, providing services over a diverse range of technology platforms. Details of broadband services available in each County can be found on a number of websites, including the websites of individual commercial operators.
The 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 long term, future proofed infrastructure build with next generation backhaul infrastructure (likely to be primarily fibre based) as the key component underpinning whatever access technology delivers the service (fixed or wireless). This infrastructure build will extend to locations in every county in the State identified as having no existing or planned enabling fibre network. It 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 18 areas in County Kildare 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 39 fibre-based broadband networks in County Kildare, 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 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 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.
In 2009, with the publication of the Technology Actions to Support the Smart Economy report, my Department identified the possibility of significant economic potential from first mover use of new types of flexible networking technology in a research context. To this end it put in place the first phase of the Exemplar programme, a test bed facility based on one such new and advanced Irish technology - Optical Packet Switching and Transport (OPST) from Intune Networks. My Department continues to engage with researchers on an ongoing basis on research projects employing the OPST technology.
The Exemplar test-bed is available to research institutions and commercial companies throughout Ireland who have been using it to develop and trial new technology and innovations, with one leading to the establishment of a new enterprise, FAZ Technologies. The test-bed has also been used for several large EU funded research projects including FINESCE, ENVIROFI and ADDONAS. The build-out of a network was always intended as a commercial development by private industry, rather than one funded by the State and while a new network has not evolved, researchers and industry continue to make valuable use of the test bed facilities.