To ask the Minister for Communications, Energy and Natural Resources the position regarding the provision of broadband in rural areas with specific reference to an area (details supplied) in County Kildare; and if he will make a statement on the matter.

– Martin Heydon.

* For WRITTEN answer on Wednesday, 2nd April, 2014.

Ref No: 15635/14


I propose to take Questions 159 and 162 together.

Since market liberalisation in 1999, broadband services are delivered in the first instance through private sector operators. The provision of telecommunications services, including broadband services, is primarily a matter for the service providers concerned 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 commercial websites as well as the websites of individual commercial operators.

The Government’s 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 investment for areas where it is not commercial for the market to invest.

Since the 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. In the fixed line segment of the market, eircom has announced plans to pass 1.4m addresses with its next generation broadband service, with speeds of up to 100Mbps, while UPC has increased its entry level and maximum speeds to 120Mbps and 200Mbps respectively. Mobile operators have also made announcements regarding network upgrades and are rolling out enhanced product offerings. In addition, the recent enactment of legislation to facilitate the ESB’s entry into the telecommunications market, either alone or in partnership with another operator, will also help the roll-out of high speed broadband as well as facilitating greater competition in the Irish market.

I am aware of at least one service provider announcing that it will be providing advanced broadband services in a total of 10 locations in County Longford, 19 locations in County Westmeath and 39 locations in County Kildare before July 2016 and my Department will be happy to discuss these further with the Deputies concerned.

Many of these developments have been facilitated through the implementation of measures in the National Broadband Plan, including the conclusion of ComReg’s multiband spectrum auction, and the regulatory regime for fixed line Next Generation Access and service bundles. Both of these measures are designed to incentivise the rollout of services by operators.

In tandem with these developments, intensive work, including a comprehensive mapping exercise, continues in my Department in relation to the State-led investment to secure the countrywide introduction of next generation broadband access. In order to progress the State-led investment for areas where it is not commercial for the market to invest, a full procurement process must be designed and EU State Aids approval must be obtained.

Under the national mapping exercise, information has been sought from all undertakings authorised by ComReg in relation to current and planned broadband services, both basic and next generation access (NGA). Mapping data has been submitted to my Department by a total of 23 operators and the process of analysing the data and supporting information is continuing. The mapping data is being assessed on a case-by-case basis, having regard to the EU State Aid Guidelines. When all of the information has been analysed, a clear picture should emerge of coverage throughout all of the country. I expect that this process will be completed later this year, after which it is my intention to publish a map showing existing and planned NGA broadband coverage, along with the Government’s proposals for a State-led intervention to roll out high speed broadband across the country. The procurement process for the approved intervention will be carried out in accordance with EU and Irish procurement rules and it is expected that it will be launched later in 2014.

Through the implementation of the National Broadband Plan, I am committed to ensuring that all parts of Ireland have access to high speed broadband, with a view to ensuring that all citizens and businesses can participate fully in, and maximise the benefits of, a digitally enabled economy and society.