Tuesday, 12 December 2000
Dáil Eireann Debate
114. Mr. Ring asked the Minister for Public Enterprise the steps she will take to ensure that the cost of bandwidth here is made more competitive in view of the fact that costs in Seattle, USA are one-twentieth of those in Ireland which places Irish companies at a serious disadvantage when trying to compete on a global basis. [29650/00]
Minister for Public Enterprise (Mrs. O'Rourke): The provision of telecommunications and broadband services is a matter in the first  instance for the companies who now operate in a fully liberalised market. The communications market was liberalised in December of 1998 because it is my belief that through increased levels of competition that the cost of these services to the end user will come down. There are now over 60 licensed communications operators with the ODTR. My responsibility is for public policy in the sector within which these companies operate. The widest possible availability of competitive services has traditionally been an important objective of Irish telecommunications policy.
In 1999 the Government entered a contract with global crossing, worth more than £77 million, to build high capacity, seamless, telecommunications infrastructure between Ireland and 36 cities in Europe and the US. As a result of this contract, the levels of international bandwidth available in and out of the country have been greatly increased and now priced at internationally very competitive rates. This bandwidth has been available on the Irish market from August this year and contracts were signed to sell the capacity to six companies thus promoting competition in international bandwith.
Under the National Development Plan, 1994-1999, £21 million was made available to support the roll-out of broadband to the regions. This figure has been significantly increased under the National Development Plan, 2000-2006, to £147 million. The allocation of this funding is the responsibility of my Department. Funding under this communications and E-commerce measure of the NDP will be utilised to leverage and accelerate investment in competitive advanced broadband infrastructure and services which will enhance the potential for the development of electronic commerce facilities and enable the electronic provision of public services, including education services, virtual libraries, welfare and health services.
The first call for proposals under the measure was executed this year and the proposals are currently being ranked. I anticipate that I will sign contracts to the value of £77 million by the end of the year. The resulting increase in the competition in the supply of services will result in a downward pressure on prices.
A large number of project submissions from both the Border, midlands, west and south and east regions have been received. The submissions are currently being assessed and evaluated at arm's length by independent consultants under the competition criteria. It is anticipated that contracts on selected projects will be signed before the end of the year and work on further extensions to broadband networks will start early next year.
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