Tuesday, 27 April 2010
Dáil Éireann Debate
85. Deputy Catherine Byrne asked the Minister for Communications, Energy and Natural Resources when it is expected to see the proposed one-stop-shop for State owned broadband; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [16577/10]
89. Deputy Brian O’Shea asked the Minister for Communications, Energy and Natural Resources the position regarding his commitment to establish a one-stop-shop to provide service providers with open access to existing ducting infrastructure; the further position regarding the implementation of proposals from the next generation broadband report; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [16655/10]
The objective of the one-stop-shop commitment in the Next Generation Broadband policy paper “Gateway to a Knowledge Ireland”, is to facilitate telecoms network operators in gaining access to ducting that exists along publicly owned energy, transport and other infrastructure so as to help reduce the cost of fibre roll-out for backhaul networks. An important step in delivering on this commitment is the Communications Regulation (Premium Rate Services and Electronic Communications Infrastructure) Act 2010, which provides that the National Roads Authority (NRA) is the single point of contact for access to ducts on motorways and other national roads. This means that telecommunications service providers no longer have to approach individual local authorities when seeking such access.
The legislation also allows the NRA to make a scheme, which will permit it to impose charges for the use of ducts subject to the approval of the Minister for Transport following consultation with the Minister for Communications, Energy and Natural Resources, and the Minister for Finance. I am satisfied that this will provide an open and transparent way of setting access pricing for NRA infrastructure. I understand the NRA has engaged expertise to assist in developing this new business and that it has been meeting with service providers as part of this process. I very much welcome this development as it is an example of what I set out to achieve in facilitating open access to State-owned ducting. Such open access is a clear policy objective of mine. The NRA model is a significant advance and I will be seeking to extend this approach to other suitable State-owned infrastructure.
On international connectivity: — The telecoms Points of Presence for the Kelvin project have all been connected to the Kelvin direct international telecoms connectivity which is undergoing three months of final testing for completion of the Kelvin project.
The position remains that any future broadband investment decisions, including investment in any further phases of the Metropolitan Area Networks (MANs) Programme, will be guided by (i) the policy paper on Next Generation Broadband, which was published in June 2009 (ii) the Value for Money and Policy Review of Phase I of the MANs Programme, which was published in July 2008 and (iii) the availability of resources.
On the National Broadband scheme — My Department entered into a contract with “3”, a Hutchison Whampoa company, for the delivery of the National Broadband Scheme (“NBS”) in late December 2008. Since then, 3 has progressed its network roll out and NBS broadband services are now available in more than sixty percent of the 1,028 designated Electoral Divisions (“ED”) to be covered under the Scheme. Under the NBS contract, all EDs in the NBS Coverage Area are required to have broadband connectivity by end September 2010.
The majority of broadband subscriptions, 68% residential and 75% non-residential, are now in the 2-10 Mbps range, higher speeds, in some cases up to 50Mbps are alsoavailable to residential and SME customers and up to 24Mbps are becoming more generally available from DSL providers which is contributing to the higher speeds target for 2012.
ComReg’s current Strategy Statement and its draft Strategy Statement to 2012, recently published for comment, are consistent with the targets to provide a proportionate regulatory framework to permit competition and effective spectrum management and use.
As regards the Broadband Task Force, an industry position, agreed by service providers is a prerequisite to progressing such a Task Force effectively. Such a position would provide the setting for a meaningful discussion involving industry, ComReg and my officials on how best to facilitate the roll out of Next Generation Access.
86. Deputy Joan Burton asked the Minister for Communications, Energy and Natural Resources his views on the claims that although there are up to 12,000 homes and businesses that cannot access broadband of any kind they are not covered by the national broadband scheme; the provision he will make for these cases; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [16654/10]
91. Deputy Kathleen Lynch asked the Minister for Communications, Energy and Natural Resources his views on his commitment that there will be universal access to broadband by the end of 2010; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [16645/10]
It is this Government’s policy that telecommunications and broadband services should be provided in the first instance by electronic communications service providers. In cases of market failure the Government will intervene, where it is appropriate and possible to do so. As part of its pledge to attain universal access to broadband by the end of 2010, set out in the policy document “Next Generation Broadband: Gateway to a Knowledge Ireland”, the Government has taken a number of initiatives to bring broadband services to those parts of the country where operators have not been able to offer a service on a commercial basis. In addition to initiatives such as the Group Broadband Scheme and the Metropolitan Area Networks, under the Government’s National Broadband Scheme, 3, a Hutchinson Whampoa Company, is required to provide broadband services to all residences and businesses that are within the NBS area and who seek a service. The roll-out of the Scheme is scheduled to be completed by the end of September next.
It is accepted that even after the full roll-out of the NBS, there will be a relatively small percentage of premises, outside of the areas covered by the scheme, which may continue to have difficulty in accessing a broadband service. This is mainly due to difficulties in signal coverage from fixed and mobile wireless service providers or technical difficulties with telephone lines. It was not possible to include such premises in the NBS scheme at the time of its planning due to the need to avoid competition difficulties with existing operators in those areas.
In order to address this issue, my Department has undertaken the design and implementation of a rural broadband scheme that will provide basic broadband to un-served rural premises outside the NBS areas. The European Commission has provided funding for this scheme through the European Economic Recovery Plan (EERP). This funding is being administered by the Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food, through the European Agricultural Fund for Rural Development (EAFRD). A total of €17.884m is available for the initiative and State Aid approval has been granted by the European Commission as part of the overall process of securing the necessary approvals and funding for the scheme.
Taking account of the time necessary to design the scheme and to put the appropriate arrangements in place, I hope to be in a position to launch the first part of the scheme (identifying and verifying the applicants) in September this year. At that time I would also expect that a procurement process will be under way to identify a service provider for the Scheme. My current target is for the service provider to be appointed and roll-out to start in mid-2011. Information relating to acceptance of applications and the process of qualification under the scheme will be made available when the scheme is launched.
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