Thursday, 6 November 2014
Department of Communications, Energy and Natural Resources
Broadband Service Provision
250. To ask the Minister for Communications, Energy and Natural Resources the progress to date in relation to the rural broadband strategy aimed at increasing access to high speed broadband to more than over 1,000 rural communities nationwide through fibre networks. [42679/14]
251. To ask the Minister for Communications, Energy and Natural Resources if work in rolling out the fibre networks in any of the areas identified has commenced since the announcement of the strategy last May. [42680/14]
I propose to take Questions Nos. 250 and 251 together.
Through the National Broadband Plan (NBP), the Government aims to ensure that high speed broadband is available to all citizens and businesses in Ireland, through a combination of commercial investment and a State-led intervention.
The commercial telecommunications sector is currently investing approximately €2.5bn in network upgrades and at least 1.6m of the 2.3m addresses in Ireland are expected to have access to commercial high speed broadband services over the next number of years. In the last week alone, two companies have announced projects to deliver direct fibre connectivity to approximately 500,000 homes and businesses in every county in Ireland. These very significant investments represent a step-change in the quality of broadband services available.
The purpose of the National Broadband Plan is to ensure that every citizen and business, regardless of where they are located, benefits from a high quality, high speed broadband service. This will be achieved through a combination of commercial investments, such as those I have already mentioned, and a State-led intervention in areas where commercial services will not be provided.
Under EU State Aid Guidelines Member States cannot intervene where commercial investors have plans to roll out services. My Department is currently finalising a national map which will identify those areas that require a State intervention. An initial examination has already identified a significant number of areas that will require State intervention.
As part of the mapping process, a stakeholder consultation was launched in June. 32 submissions have been received and non-commercially sensitive versions of these responses were published by my Department last month.
I expect to publish the map shortly. Those accessing this map will be able to identify their own house or premises and see whether it is in the proposed intervention footprint. Where a house or premises is not in the proposed intervention area it means it either currently, or will in the near future, have access to commercial high speed broadband services. The map will be subject to change as new information becomes available or commercial investments are announced in the future.
A further public consultation on a detailed intervention strategy will be launched in mid-2015. My Department is also working closely with the European Commission with a view to obtaining State Aid clearance for the programme.
A detailed procurement process will be undertaken in order to select a potential preferred bidder or bidders towards the end of 2015.
This complex and ambitious project is a key priority for Government. It aims to conclusively address current connectivity challenges in Ireland.