Tuesday, 12 November 2002
Dáil Eireann Debate
326. Mr. R. Bruton asked the Minister for Communications, Marine and Natural Resources the proportion of small business users and domestic users who have access to high speed data transmission networks both in Dublin and outside of Dublin; the take-up of the different forms of data transmission, for example fibre-optic cable, DSL and so on; and the level of access when the present round of investment is complete. [21475/02]
Minister for Communications, Marine and Natural Resources (Mr. D. Ahern): Access to high-speed data transmission or broadband penetration, mainly via DSL, in Ireland at the end of 2000 was 0.1 per 100 inhabitants, according to a recent OECD report which placed Ireland twenty-fifth in the league table of 26 countries in terms of broadband status. The Government wishes to see Ireland within the top 10% of OECD countries for broadband connectivity within the next three years. To accelerate the roll-out of services by the private sector my Department has run a number of programmes in recent years. In 1999, under the National Development Plan 1994-1999 and INTERREG II, €26.5 million was made available to support the roll-out of broadband to the regions. Thirteen projects which introduced broadband services nationwide to a value, consisting of both public and private funding, of €70 million were supported and are now completed. These projects entailed the roll-out of broadband services in the BMW region and the south and east.
Under the National Development Plan, 2000-2006, the indicative figure allocated to telecommunications initiatives was approximately €200 million. Funding under the communications and e-commerce measure of the NDP will be utilised to leverage and accelerate investment in competitive advanced information and communications 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. A first call for proposals was run in 2000 and on foot of submissions received nine contracts were signed at the beginning of last year, which will result in additional investment in the regions in broadband infrastructure and increased availability of broadband services for business and residential users. The projects involved are scheduled to be completed by the end of next year and will entail an overall investment of €160 million in broadband, leveraged from grant assistance of approximately €55 million.
Of the projects selected under this call under the communications measure of the NDP 2000-2006, my Department will fund Esat-BT with up to €9 million to roll out a €25 million DSL programme at 40 centres outside the Dublin area. Nevadatel is constructing four regional points of presence and ESB Telecom is being funded to roll out a fibre-optic backbone nationwide. Under the second call, €3.7 million has been made available to Eircom in respect of DSL roll-out at 14 exchanges nationwide. In addition, I am aware that Eircom is rolling out DSL at 32 centres in the greater Dublin area. I am also informed that by the end of the year 500,000 lines will be DSL-enabled, which will greatly facilitate the deployment of broadband nationwide.
The broadband programme announced in March will involve 20 projects which will lead to the construction of metropolitan area fibre-optic networks in towns to link up with the existing backbone network in the country at a projected cost of €60 million. The town links will facilitate consumers, educational establishments, industry and business and provide “always-on” low-cost and high-speed Internet access which will drive the Government's e-commerce agenda. By reducing the cost of access to fibre rings, it will facilitate the provision of broadband services by a greater a number of operators and the ensuing competition should benefit the end users in these towns.
328. Mr. R. Bruton asked the Minister for Communications, Marine and Natural Resources the cost for domestic and for small business users of access to high-volume rapid-speed data transmission networks here; the way in which this compares with costs in the UK and in Denmark and in other appropriate European countries. [21477/02]
334. Mr. J. Higgins asked the Minister for Communications, Marine and Natural Resources if his Department will introduce measures to compel a company (details supplied) to provide flat-rate always-on Internet access to specific areas in a definite timescale given that this company (details supplied) has a monopoly for cable television and has been enabled by the regulator to substantially raise television fees on the basis that it would provide such a service. [21600/02]
The regulation of Internet charges is a matter for the Office of the Director of Telecommunications Regulation. However, I share the view that access to the Internet at competitive prices is vital in driving the information society and is a pivotal part of our development as an economy and as a society. In this context, I propose to issue a policy direction to the new Commission for Communications Regulation in accordance with the terms of the Communications Regulation Act, 2002. It is my intention that the direction will focus on a number of key policy priorities for the CCR in the short to medium term, including the introduction of flat-rate Internet access. The new commission will be established very shortly and following its establishment I will publish a draft of my policy direction for public consultation. I am confident that my initiative in this regard should bring about a substantial improvement on the current position in this area.
329. Mr. Broughan asked the Minister for Communications, Marine and Natural Resources his views on whether staffing levels at the new communications regulatory commission are adequate for the range of responsibilities being carried out by the commission; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [21478/02]
Minister for Communications, Marine and Natural Resources (Mr. D. Ahern): The Commission for Communications Regulation must have the appropriate resources to carry out its functions properly. However, it is important that this is balanced against the need to ensure that the cost of regulation of the communications sector in Ireland is competitive compared to those costs in other EU member states. It is my intention to use my powers under section 20(3)(a) of the Communications Regulation Act, 2002, during 2003 to review the number, grading, remuneration and other conditions of staff in the Commission for Communications Regulation, taking into account the commission's use of and needs for consultancy services.
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