Written answers

Tuesday, 1 July 2014

Department of Communications, Energy and Natural Resources

Broadband Services Provision

Photo of Robert TroyRobert Troy (Longford-Westmeath, Fianna Fail)
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289. To ask the Minister for Communications, Energy and Natural Resources further to Parliamentary Questions Nos. 534 and 535 of 11 June 2013, if his officials have ascertained from 3 the services that will be available in NBS areas after August 2014, particularly relating to mobile download limits and satellite fees; if 3 has given any continuing commitment in relation to the mobile base stations deployed under the scheme; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [28522/14]

Photo of Pat RabbittePat Rabbitte (Minister, Department of Communications, Energy and Natural Resources; Dublin South West, Labour)
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My Department entered into a contract in late 2008 with Hutchison 3G Ireland Ltd (trading as “3”) for the delivery of the NBS. The Scheme has facilitated the availability of a basic, affordable broadband service to fixed residences and businesses located within 1,028 Electoral Divisions across 25 Counties. In accordance with the EU State Aid clearance for the Scheme, the NBS intervention was for a limited duration and accordingly, the contract is due to expire on 25thAugust 2014.

“3” have confirmed to my Department that it will continue to provide coverage throughout the areas covered under the Scheme, on a commercial basis. Furthermore, I understand that “3” plan to extend 4G coverage to these areas over the coming years.

Following expiry of the NBS contract and the cessation of the services specified under the contract, “3” will offer customers in NBS areas the same mobile broadband plans and tariffs, as those offered throughout its commercial footprint. I understand that such plans include the option of a 15GB and a 60GB monthly data limit.

With reference to the provision of services to NBS satellite customers, which have been provided under the NBS contract via a third party supplier, I understand that commercially confidential negotiations are ongoing to ensure that these customers are offered a satellite broadband service on a commercial basis. Until such time as these negotiations are finalised, I am not in a position to provide any further information.

I understand that each NBS mobile and satellite broadband customer will receive an individual letter from “3” in the next few weeks, informing them of the expiry of the NBS contract, the service options available to them as well as the opportunity to decline the services offered without penalty, should they so wish.

The NBS, combined with private investment, allowed Ireland to meet the EU Commission’s “Digital Agenda for Europe” target of having a basic broadband service available to all areas by 2013. The focus now is on ensuring that rural Ireland enjoys similar opportunities to urban areas in terms of access to high speed connectivity. In this regard, the next phase of Ireland’s broadband evolution is focused on the delivery of the State-led intervention under the National Broadband Plan.

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. 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, at . 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.

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.

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