Wednesday, 2 March 2022
Department of Rural and Community Development
241. To ask the Minister for Rural and Community Development the status of the roll-out of broadband connection points; the number that have been connected to date by county; the number planned to be connected; the component shortages that may impact the delivery of broadband connection points; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [11926/22]
Public Broadband Connection Points (BCPs) are among the first premises for delivery under the National Broadband Plan. They are publicly accessible sites that serve areas without reliable high-speed broadband, including isolated communities in rural areas and on many of our offshore islands. Sites are provided with a temporary wireless high-speed broadband connection which they make available for onsite community use, including for remote work and study.
There are currently 250 BCPs live and these are all listed on the online map available at www.myconnectedcommunity.ie. Approximately 50 more BCPs are planned for installation this year. The full listing by local authority area is set out in the table below.
It should be noted that there will always be a ‘lag’ between the sites shown live on the map and the sites that are, in practice, live and operational. This is due to the need for my officials to verify that the service at each BCP is as users would expect and that the work has been completed to the requisite high standard. Sites do not become billable until this verification process has been completed. The map is updated periodically to include recently commissioned sites.
With regard to component shortages, the layer 3 8-port switches used at many BCPs have proven difficult to source due to the global semi-conductor shortage. Standard switches are the point at which the initial connectivity comes into the premises from the wireless link (dish) outside the premises and is then redirected to the WiFi access points for the public to use. Layer 3 switches allow for wired and networked equipment such as desktop PCs, printers, smart screens, remote access door controls and onsite managed firewalls, as well as the standard WiFi solution. As such, they are essential to the future-proofing of BCPs, adding another level of amenity beyond the original scope of the project.
Due to the same issues impacting on delivery of the switches, the enterprise-grade WiFi access points used at BCPs have also been difficult to source.
We have been informed that the remaining WiFi access points and switches will be delivered by the end of this month and that Vodafone, the retail service provider contracted by my department to support the BCP network, will work to deploy these as quickly as possible.
242. To ask the Minister for Rural and Community Development the status of the additional development activities connected to broadband connection points namely the pilot projects trialling new activities and services; the details of pilot projects; the locations of same; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [11927/22]
Public Broadband Connection Points (BCPs) provide supports for the whole community, remote workers, students, local community groups and schools. They can offer suites of digital skills training courses, arts and culture activities including musical instruction and access to national cultural resources and a range of eHealth and telemedicine programmes.
My Department in partnership with a number of BCP committees and local authority Broadband Officers began trialing new activities and services in the BCPs in 2021. These trials serve two purposes: to establish what may work well at BCPs and to encourage those managing BCPs to develop innovative uses for the high-speed connectivity that has been provided.
Trial projects may be available to all operational BCPs, or may be limited to certain selected sites. Where there is a limit to the number of sites that may take part in a trial, these sites are selected on a first come, first served basis, or on the basis of a needs and suitability assessment. The intention is that on foot of these pilot projects successful projects can be made available to all BCPs nationwide.
There are currently 18 pilot projects live under the following four headings:
eHealth- dedicated e-health rooms, planned or operational, in counties Sligo, Leitrim, Mayo and Monaghan, including Tory and Clare islands.
These eHealth facilities will complement the ‘HSE Attend Anywhere’ initiative and be suitable for a range of virtual consultations with consultants and other medical professionals in major hospitals without the need for long distance travel.
Training & Education– Digital Skills Training is provided for free by a number of partners including Microsoft, Kinia, CoderDojo and OurKidsCode.
These training programmes are aimed at senior citizens, primary and secondary school age children, and adults with an interest in updating their digital skills. The courses are intended to promote basic digital literacy, upskilling and engagement with STEM subjects during childhood.
Several of these trials have already begun and are showing great potential. The full range of digital skills programmes are scheduled for roll out from the second quarter of 2022.
Arts & Culture– there are currently four significant projects underway in 2022:
- The IFI Oscars Collection of short films due to launch exclusively to all BCPs on the 24th March (TBC). This Collection has been curated and will be delivered by the Irish Film Institute.
- Na Píobairí Uilleann (NPU) is offering free Uilleann Pipes classes for all ages. Participants are invited to “Try the pipes” before committing to a course of instruction. Classes are delivered online from BCPs. NPU also has a loan program for those unable to afford to buy pipes.
- Access Cinema Film Clubs - to set up film clubs on 5 remote island locations providing support for 1 film screening per month for 5 months and provide ongoing support to the film club. The sites chosen are Clare Island (Mayo), Achill Island (Mayo), Valentia Island (Kerry), Bere Island (Cork) and either Lettermullen Island or Inis Oirr (Galway).
- RESILIENCE Music Event arranged and recorded by Meath Co Co available exclusively to all BCPs nationwide.
Remote Working– training for hub managers is being provided by the Ludgate Hub in Skibbereen. To support remote workers, Grow Remote will provide training and mentoring to groups so that they can establish Grow Remote chapters in their area. These chapters provide a network of peers and access to the national body which advocates for and provides advice to remote workers in Ireland. Grow Remote, the Ludgate Hub and officials at my department are providing ongoing support to many BCPs as they develop working facilities and services. Support is also provided via the Connected Hubs platform, of which several BCs are members.
There is no charge to the BCPs or the public for participation in any of the trial activities. Furthermore, grants of €1,000 are available from my department for devices and equipment to support training and education activities and €10,000 has been made available to each local authority to procure additional activities or training, either under the headings above or under another heading as proposed by the Broadband Officer.
In addition to the above, BCPs were beneficiaries of the 2021 Connected Hubs fund under which almost €9M was made available to hub and BCPs to increase remote work capacity. I have also recently announced the 2022 Connected Hubs funding call. Once again, BCPs are eligible to apply for funding up to €75,000 and I would encourage all BCPs to consider making an application. I have made €5M available for the 2022 fund.
Details of events at BCPs can be found at myconnectedcommunity.ie/events/. This function on the BCP network’s website will be kept updated over the coming months with additional details as new events are added.
Broadband officers (BBO) are based in local authorities across the country. The role of the BBO is to provide a local point of contact for telecoms operators and the public regarding telecoms issues, and the posts are funded by my Department and local authorities.
BBOs play a key role in working with National Broadband Ireland, as well as with initiatives introduced by my Department such as the Broadband Connection Points, the Digital Innovation Programme, and the National Remote Working Hub network.
A full list of broadband officers and their contact details can be found at www.gov.ie/pdf/121991/?page=null.