Dáil Questions: Broadband coverage for Oldtown north County Dublin

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Communications, Dáil Issues, Oral Questions

To ask the Minister for Communications, Climate Action and Environment his plans to address the gaps in broadband coverage in rural areas around the country; and if he will make a statement on the matter.
– Clare Daly.

For ORAL answer on Tuesday, 9th May, 2017
To ask the Minister for Communications, Climate Action and Environment the steps he will take to address the gap in broadband coverage for the Oldtown area of north County Dublin; and if he will make a statement on the matter.
– Clare Daly.

For ORAL answer on Tuesday, 9th May, 2017.
The National Broadband Plan (NBP) aims to deliver high speed broadband services to every city, town, village and individual premises in Ireland. The Programme for Government commits to the delivery of the NBP as a matter of priority.  This is being achieved through a combination of commercial investment by the telecommunications sector and a State intervention in those areas where commercial investment has not been fully demonstrated. 
A key principle of the NBP is to support and stimulate commercial investment through policy and regulatory measures. Commercial investment since the publication of the NBP has considerably exceeded expectations. To date, the commercial telecommunications sector has invested over €2.5bn in upgrading and modernising networks which support the provision of high speed broadband and mobile telecoms services.
There has been significant progress in relation to broadband rollout so that today, approximately 1.4m or 61% of premises in Ireland can get high speed broadband of a minimum of 30 Megabits per second. The NBP has been a catalyst in encouraging investment by the telecoms sector, which is continuing to expand this footprint.
On the 4 April, I signed a commitment agreement with eir in relation to its plans to provide broadband to an additional 300,000 premises in rural areas on a commercial basis.  Eir has committed to concluding this work over a 90 week period, an average of nearly 500 premises per day.  My Department will be monitoring this rollout to ensure that eir meets its obligations under the Agreement.  A copy of the Commitment Agreement is available on my Department’s website.  On the same day I published  an updated High Speed Broadband Map which finalises the State Intervention area.    The updated Map shows the following categories of areas for delivery of broadband:
– The BLUE areas represent those areas where commercial telecommunications providers are either currently delivering or have indicated plans to deliver high speed broadband services,
– The AMBER areas on the High Speed Broadband Map represent the areas that will require State Intervention and are the subject of the current procurement process.
It is intended that all premises will have access to services of at least 30 megabits per second when the procurement process is completed and the network rolled out.
There are approximately 2.3m  premises covering Ireland’s 26 counties, of which approximately 23% (542,000) premises are located in the AMBER area on the Map.  These premises will require State intervention and are the focus for the State Intervention procurement process.  The remaining 1.8m  premises are located in the BLUE areas and will be/are served by commercial operators.
The map shows that 100% of Oldtown Co Dublin falls within eir’s plans to deliver rural high speed broadband between now and end 2018 (Light Blue on the Map). Individuals can themselves check whether their premises is in a BLUE or an AMBER area by accessing the High Speed Broadband Map and entering their Eircode at www.broadband.gov.ie. Information on eir’s planned rural deployment is available at  http://fibrerollout.ie/eircode-lookup/.
A formal procurement process is in train to select a company or companies who will roll-out a new high speed broadband network within the State Intervention Area. The procurement process is being intensively managed, to ensure an outcome that delivers a future-proofed network that serves homes and businesses across Ireland, for at least 25 years. The finalisation of the State Intervention Area for the procurement process is an important milestone as it means that bidders can progress their business plans and the Department can move to the next stage of the procurement.   The  three bidders have indicated that they are proposing a predominantly fibre-to-the-home solution. A fibre-to-the-home solution means that householders and businesses may get speeds not just of 30 Megabits per second but much higher, potentially up to 1000 Megabits per second.
The State Intervention network will be a wholesale network and retail service providers will be able to use the network to provide enhanced broadband services to their customers.
The timeframe for the procurement continues to be dependent on a range of factors including the complexities that may be encountered by the procurement team and bidders, during the procurement process. During the Department’s extensive stakeholder consultations in 2015, telecommunications service providers indicated a 3-5 year timeline to rollout a network of the scale envisaged under the NBP once contracts are in place.
The Department will engage with winning bidder(s) on the best rollout strategy, in order to target areas of particularly poor service, business needs and/or high demand and a prioritisation programme.
The Programme for Government also commits to measures to assist in the rollout of the network once a contract is awarded.
In this regard, I established a Mobile Phone and Broadband Task Force in July 2016 together with Minister Humphreys to identify immediate solutions to broadband and mobile phone coverage deficits and investigate how better services could be provided to consumers prior to the full build and roll-out of the network planned under the National Broadband Plan State intervention. The report of the Task Force was published in December and is  available on my Department’s website.

In producing this report, the Task Force worked with Departments, local authorities, ComReg, State agencies, the telecoms industry and other key stakeholders. The report contains 40 actions that will alleviate some of the telecommunications deficits across Ireland and the implementation programme on mobile phone and broadband access identifies 19 of these actions as areas where immediate and direct action by Departments and State agencies can ensure accelerated benefits to consumers.

The work of the Task Force is being led by an Implementation Group.  This group brings together all key stakeholders identified in the Task Force report with responsibility for delivery of actions. This group will formally report every 90 days on progress made on all actions to both myself and Minister Humphreys. I am expecting the first such quarterly report shortly.
In addition, I have signed regulations allowing ComReg to proceed with a 2017 allocation of spectrum in the 3.6 GHz radio spectrum band. This will provide an 86% increase in total spectrum available for mobile and fixed wireless services.

In my Department’s Estimates for 2017, I have secured an €8 million provision for RTE to allow it to free up the 700 MHz spectrum band. ComReg in turn will make plans to allocate this spectrum to provide for significantly enhanced mobile coverage. The 700 MHz band is particularly suited to rural environments where the signal can travel long distances.

These initiatives should assist in enhancing the quality of mobile phone and data services across Ireland and particularly in rural Ireland.
There is no universal service obligation (USO) for high speed broadband provision or mobile voice services in Ireland. The current EU and national regulatory framework for telecommunications relates solely to voice telephony and Functional Internet Access (28.8 kilobits per second) and is provided for under the current EU regulatory framework governing telecoms.  In September 2016, the European Commission published an ambitious proposal for the regulation of the European telecoms sector, which aims to incentivise and encourage increased investment in high speed broadband networks.  I have raised the issue of a USO for high speed broadband at EU level and I am seeking inclusion of a specific provision in the new framework that would allow Member States to apply a USO for high speed broadband, where such networks are available.