Written answers

Wednesday, 2 November 2016

Department of Communications, Energy and Natural Resources

Broadband Service Provision

Photo of Pat GallagherPat Gallagher (Donegal, Fianna Fail)
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416. To ask the Minister for Communications, Energy and Natural Resources the progress made to date within County Donegal in the provision of rural broadband services; the projected timeframe for delivery of rural broadband services to all areas and parts of the county; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [32853/16]

Photo of Pat GallagherPat Gallagher (Donegal, Fianna Fail)
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417. To ask the Minister for Communications, Energy and Natural Resources the measures being taken to improve the quality of mobile phone coverage within the State; his Department’s strategy for providing mobile coverage to areas which never had mobile phone coverage, such as areas in rural Ireland; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [32854/16]

Photo of Denis NaughtenDenis Naughten (Roscommon-Galway, Independent)
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I propose to take Questions Nos. 416 and 417 together.

The National Broadband Plan aims to deliver high speed services to every city, town, village and individual premises in Ireland. The Programme for Government commits to the delivery of the NBP as a matter of priority.  This is being achieved through private investment by commercial telecommunications companies and through a State intervention in areas where commercial investment has not been fully demonstrated.

To date, the commercial telecommunications sector has invested over €2bn in upgrading and modernising networks which support the provision of high speed broadband and mobile telecoms services including:

- Eir’s broadband roll-out of services of up to 100 Megabits per second has passed approximately 1.3m premises across Ireland.  When complete up to 75,000 premises and businesses may be able to access eir's high speed broadband network in County Donegal.

- SIRO, an initiative made possible by Oireachtas legislation introduced by my Department, is rolling out fibre-to-the-home in  towns across Ireland including Letterkenny in County Donegal.  To date 30,000 premises have been passed by SIRO who are currently building out in 17 towns nationwide.

- Virgin Media currently provides services of up to 360 Megabits per second in over 750,000 premises.

- Wireless operators have developed new technologies capable of delivering speeds of 100 Megabits per second and are rolling out new high speed services, including services in Donegal.

- Mobile operators are also rolling out 4G services across Ireland which is significantly enhancing the mobile broadband experience

Approximately 1.3m premises in Ireland can now get high speed broadband and at least one mobile operator is delivering 4G services to over 90% of the population.  It is estimated that up to 48% of premises in Co. Donegal will have access to commercial high speed broadband services provided by telecommunications operators, while the remaining 52% consisting of just over 52,000 premises will fall within the proposed State led intervention under the National Broadband Plan.  The breakdown of premises covered, per townland, is available on the High Speed Broadband Map at www.broadband.gov.ie. The roll-out of services by commercial operators is being kept under constant review by the Department to ensure that all premises can get access to services, either through commercial investment or the State intervention.

The Department is now in a formal procurement process to select a company or companies who will roll out a new high speed broadband network within the State Intervention Area comprising over 750,000 premises, covering 100,000km of road network and 96% of the land area of Ireland.  

Intensive dialogue with bidders is continuing and the three bidders have indicated that they are proposing a predominantly fibre-to-the-home solution.  Householders and businesses may  get speeds not just of 30 Megabits per second but potentially up to 1000 Megabits per second with businesses potentially availing of symmetrical upload and download speeds.

Earlier this year, before I came into office, the Department announced that it would be June 2017 before contract(s) were awarded under the NBP. The bidders in the process have recently indicated that they may need more time to conclude the procurement process. The timing of each stage of the procurement continues to be dependent on a range of factors including the complexities that may be encountered by the procurement team, and bidders, during the procurement process. Bidders need adequate time to prepare detailed proposals and their final formal bids and get the relevant shareholder and funding approvals at key stages of the process. It is also important to ensure that risks in this multi-million euro procurement are carefully managed. I do not propose to comment any further at this juncture, given that discussions are ongoing in the procurement process. I can assure the Deputy however, that the procurement process is being intensively managed, to ensure an outcome that delivers a future-proofed network that serves homes and businesses across Ireland, for at least 25 years. The Government considers the NBP to be one of the most significant investments in rural Ireland for decades, and one which will transform society, akin to rural electrification in the last century.

In parallel, and in accordance with commitments in the Programme for Government, Minister Humphreys is leading on the establishment of two regional action groups to help accelerate the broadband network build in rural Ireland, once a contract(s) has been awarded.

In July, I established a Mobile Phone and Broadband Task force with my colleague Minister Humphreys to address immediate issues in relation to the quality of mobile phone and broadband coverage. I expect the Task force to report by end 2016.

In addition, I recently signed Regulations allowing ComReg to proceed with an early 2017 auction of the 3.6GHz radio spectrum band, to provide an 86% increase in total spectrum available for mobile and fixed wireless services. I have also secured €8m for RTÉ which will allow it to free up the 700 MHz spectrum band.

These initiatives should assist in significantly improving the quality of broadband and mobile phone services across Ireland, putting Ireland to the forefront internationally in terms of connectivity.


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