Wednesday, 19 October 2011
Dáil Éireann Debate
Deputy Pat Rabbitte: The telecommunications market in Ireland, including the provision of next generation broadband networks and services, has been fully liberalised since 1999 and has since seen the steady growth and development of significant well regulated competition in the provision of the full range of telecommunications products and services. Provision of broadband services, including next generation broadband, is, therefore, primarily a matter for the private sector telecommunications operators.
The Government is not a commercial operator in this market and can only intervene in cases of market failure. Such interventions are subject to state aid clearance by the European Commission. Nevertheless, it is a priority of the Government that there be broadband coverage across the entire country. Therefore, in cases of market failure to deliver quality services, the Government will continue to intervene, where it is appropriate and possible to do so.
The group broadband scheme, the national broadband scheme, NBS, and the rural broadband scheme are all examples of where the Government has intervened previously to ensure broadband availability in areas, particularly rural areas, where commercial investors have failed to provide services. The national broadband scheme, now completed, has delivered broadband services to some 1,028 electoral districts countrywide. A basic broadband service is now available in all areas of the country. This has been provided ahead of a European Commission target to have such a basic broadband service widely available across the Union by the end of 2013. The rural broadband scheme which recently closed for applications aims to identify remaining individual premises in rural Ireland that are unable to obtain a broadband service for reasons specific to the premises, even though broadband is generally available in the area.
These interventions are additional to the overall progress being made on the quality and delivery of broadband within the competitive market. For example, broadband speeds of up to 100 megabits per second, mbps, are already available to approximately 500,000 premises using coaxial cable. This will increase to more than 700,000 premises by the end of next year. Telephone lines now provide digital subscriber line broadband offering speeds of up to 24 mbps, depending on distance from exchanges.
In addition to these improvements in fixed line services, developments in wireless technologies are also delivering higher speeds. Fixed wireless products, are increasingly available, and are advertising speeds of up to 10 mbps, while mobile broadband speeds are also being increased. The speeds being provided through these technologies will be considerably enhanced with the availability of new spectrum as a consequence of the switch to digital television services. ComReg proposes to auction this valuable spectrum for the purposes of providing fourth generation high-speed wireless broadband services. Current statistics indicate that more than 80% of customers nationally have opted into broadband services in the range of 2 mbps to 10 mbps.
Under the NewERA proposals in the programme for Government, there is a commitment to co-invest with the private sector and commercial semi-State sector to bring forward next generation broadband customer access to every home and business in the State. This commitment must be implemented in a manner compliant with the applicable EU state aid rules, which I mentioned previously. The next generation broadband task force, which I chair and which also comprises the Minister of State, Deputy O’Dowd, the chief executive officers, CEOs, of all the major telecommunications companies operating in the Irish market and of some Internet service provider companies, is currently considering how best to facilitate the roll-out of next generation broadband. The purpose of the task force is to discuss the optimal policy environment required to facilitate the provision of high-speed broadband across Ireland. The task force will also assist me in identifying those areas of the country where commercial service providers are planning to invest and areas more appropriate to market intervention to ensure the Government commitment to next generation customer access is delivered.
Deputy Tom Fleming: I thank the Minister for his reply. No part of County Kerry has yet been upgraded to next generation uncongested broadband. As the county is the main tourism hub in Ireland, it is imperative that this is rolled out in the short term. The problem was highlighted at the recent Irish Open golf championship in Killarney. The broadband speeds available for visiting journalists fell far short of what is available to the media in other developed countries they would visit in carrying out their job. Only the good will and expertise of the local technicians on the ground who patchworked the existing service kept the system going over that week. If it were not for them, the system would have virtually collapsed.
Deputy Pat Rabbitte: Of course I agree with Deputy Tom Fleming that every part of the country should have adequate connectivity. I am not sure the facts and figures bear out the notion that those in Kerry are especially disadvantaged. I know all Kerry men are very good at communicating that view, especially on the third Sunday in September, but I do not think it is necessarily true. The point he is raising relates to a particular event, the Irish Open. As a result there was extraordinary pressure on the system with the world’s media in attendance. In those circumstances, the sponsor or the organiser ought to have arranged that booster resources were available because such an event would stretch any system.
I do not know if the Deputy saw the remarks of President Bill Clinton who said at Dublin Castle that our broadband is better than the broadband in the United States in many parts of the country, which is true. That is not to say it is adequate. I acknowledge that given topography and so on, there are difficulties in counties such as Kerry. That is especially true at a time when there is the great pressure, as there was during the Irish Open. I acknowledge that is a problem.
Deputy Tom Fleming: We are very dependent on tourism. We also have our small businesses, industries and farmers who need to expand their businesses and livelihoods. They are being greatly inhibited in job creation and so on by what is available owing to our peripherality. There was a recent survey by the Kerry Community & Voluntary Forum.
Deputy Tom Fleming: It really spelled it out and I will present it to the Minister’s office because it deserves consideration. It states that public statements about the national coverage of broadband are patently incorrect when it comes to County Kerry. As can be seen from the report, large areas of the county have no or at best limited coverage. There are other facts and figures in the report and I ask the Minister to have his staff review it.
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