Tuesday, 1 June 2010
Dáil Éireann Debate
26. Deputy Simon Coveney asked the Minister for Communications, Energy and Natural Resources the specific actions he will take on in 2010 to assist and promote the rollout of high speed next generation broadband through the increased provision of fibre to homes and businesses. [23545/10]
Deputy Eamon Ryan: The electronic communications market, including the provision of fibre based next generation networks, is fully liberalised and subject to both EU and national competition and regulatory rules. Government policy on the development of the electronic communications market in Ireland is set out in “Next Generation Broadband — Gateway to a Knowledge Ireland”, which I published in June 2009. The policy paper was developed in accordance with various key principles, which are crucial to the development of the market, including competition, at platform and service levels, which drives innovation and investment; investment certainty for service providers considering investing in network infrastructure; investment intervention by Government to bridge any digital divide in cases of market failure and to meet some of the State’s own communication needs; and appropriate regulation. The policy paper also sets out a number of specific actions to support these principles.
It commits to providing access to State owned infrastructure where possible and appropriate. 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 is the single point of contact for access to ducts on motorways and other national roads. The NRA is exploring how best to develop this new business and I very much welcome this development as an example of what I set out to achieve in facilitating open access to State owned ducting.
Our commitment to universal access will also be fulfilled this year. The national broadband scheme will ensure that broadband services are available throughout Ireland by the end of this year. However, even after the full roll-out of the national broadband scheme there will be a small percentage of premises outside these areas that will have persistent difficulty in obtaining a broadband service, primarily due to technical and locational reasons.
Having secured funding for rural broadband under the European economic recovery plan, my Department is developing a new measure under the rural development plan to address the issue of basic broadband availability in remaining unserved rural premises outside of the NBS areas. State aid approval has been granted by the European Commission and it is intended to commence the scheme later this year.
Project Kelvin is delivering continued high speed connectivity for Ireland. This is a collaborative North-South project with the Department of Enterprise, Trade and Investment in Belfast, which has brought a transatlantic submarine telecoms cable ashore in the north-west and which will improve the speed and capacity of communications links to North America. The Kelvin project is expected to be completed by July 2010 and international connectivity in the locations with a Kelvin point of presence should be fully operational by then.
In addition to these actions 78 schools will have 100 mbps broadband connectivity available to them for the beginning of the next academic year in September. This project, sponsored by my Department and the Department of Education and Skills, will demonstrate how high speed broadband and advanced ICT equipment can greatly enhance the learning and teaching environment in schools. This Government has also committed to rolling out this project to all second level schools by 2012.
Our policy approach has facilitated significant progress in broadband roll out and broadband speeds over recent years. There is now a competitive market across a range of platforms offering ever increasing levels of broadband speeds. For example, Ireland has over 1.443 million broadband subscribers and our broadband per capita penetration rate is 32.4%. Internationally, Ireland ranks 11th of the EU 27 for per capita broadband penetration, fourth for mobile only penetration and 14th for fixed broadband penetration.
Of the homes with broadband connections, 68.4% of them, and 72.8% of SMEs with broadband connections, are using broadband speeds of between 2 mbps and 10 mbps. We must build on the progress made to date with a particular focus on facilitating investment in next generations networks. In this context my Department and I liaise with industry participants and ComReg on an ongoing basis and these discussions encompass all matters relating to broadband infrastructure development including investment in next generations networks. I have made it clear on a number of occasions that I favour a collaborative approach by the industry to broadband investment.
Deputy Simon Coveney: The question relates specifically to fibre to homes and businesses. While I welcome projects such as the Kelvin project, I am trying to ascertain what the Minister and his Department are doing to try to replace the copper into homes with fibre. In the policy paper of June 2009, to which he referred, the Minister gave a commitment to move towards open access to all ducting, as has been done successfully in France, for example, not only State owned ducting owned by the National Roads Authority. Where stands the Minister’s commitment to regulate to ensure there is open access to ducting that can carry fibre optic cable?
Deputy Eamon Ryan: In the past year, significant improvements have been, particularly by Eircom, the incumbent provider, in moving towards a more open access network. Eircom has fundamentally changed its business approach and is genuinely fighting to secure wholesale business. The regulator has also set standards in terms of pricing and introduced regulations on wholesale access. We have had a genuine change of approach towards a more open access system from the main fixed line telecoms operator.
On the important question as to what one does to deliver fibre to business and homes, I did not mention the initiative to have 100 megabit connectivity to schools. We are not technologically biased. Provided high speed access is available, it could be done by fibre, fixed wireless or other means.
On ducting, the initial, main response was to ensure the ducting on our national roads network was made available on an open access basis. The switch by Eircom, which is the main provider to other network operators, to a more wholesale model fits in with our strategic intent to provide access on a more open basis.
Deputy Eamon Ryan: Yes but the regulator is independent. The policy direction I have given, as set out in the paper to which the Deputy referred, is to support investment in next generation networks and provide for more open access and more wholesale markets. This has been done. If regulatory policy is working, the Minister does not step in and start issuing directions that could get in the way of the progress that has been made.
Deputy Simon Coveney: Let us be clear on this issue. The system is not working. Ireland is moving down the table of broadband speeds. The most recent OECD report places Ireland 29th out of 30 countries, with Mexico the only country with slower broadband speeds, yet we aspire to becoming a smart economy.
Let us come straight to the point. We need to ensure there is competition in platforms and ducts to ensure that if Eircom does not have money to put in place fibre, other companies can use their infrastructure to make this happen.
Deputy Eamon Ryan: The policy of platform competition and a good regulated market is delivering. The key measure is the real speeds as opposed to the speeds advertised in Mexico or elsewhere. A ComReg survey of businesses last year showed that approximately 92% of the businesses questioned had Internet access. Some three quarters said they were satisfied with the speeds they had and half of them had speeds in excess of 10 megabit. We should not be satisfied with that. We should aim to be right up at the top.
Deputy Eamon Ryan: We need to get more fibre and ducting in place and obtain higher speeds. I agree with the Deputy. One would never be satisfied with what one has but one does not get in the way of certain approaches.
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