Failure of previous broadband scheme highlighted in Dáil
Formal procurement by the Government to select the company or companies to carry out work as part of the National Broadband Plan is on course to be complete this year.
Further public consultation on the Government’s intervention strategy will take place this summer, the Minister for Communications, Energy and Natural Resources, Alex White has confirmed to Galway West and Mayo South TD, Seán Kyne.
The progress of the National Broadband Plan was raised this week in the Dáil by Deputy Kyne who specifically raised broadband deficiencies in Galway with the Minister.
Commented Deputy Kyne: “While it is hugely welcome that commercial operators are investing €2.5 billion to upgrade the broadband network which will bring high speed broadband to 1.6 million of Ireland’s 2.3 million homes and businesses, other areas will be entirely dependent on the State for high speed broadband.
“Deficiencies in rural broadband are impacting on jobs, impeding the regional recovery and depriving consumers of value which online services can bring. Previous broadband plans looked good on glossy paper but they failed to deliver in many areas – inexplicably in areas close to cities and towns as well as more remote communities.
“I am encouraged by the Minister’s assurance that he and his broadband team are simultaneously working on the practical aspects of the plan as well as on the Government’s application under the EU’s State Aid rules to provide the funding.
“This approach means the Government will be ready to proceed with the €512 million investment as quickly as possible.
“Tests are already being carried out in rural Mayo on fibre-to-the-building broadband while the ESB and Vodafone are progressing their plans to use the electricity network for broadband with testing underway in Cavan. Such technology will be used in the overall National Broadband Plan”.
PQ No. 12 – Tuesday, 28th April
Broadband Service Provision
Deputy Seán Kyne asked the Minister for Communications, Energy and Natural Resources the order by which locations will be selected for works, as part of the national broadband plan, in view of areas such as those covered by the Knockferry exchange in County Galway, for example, which were inexplicably omitted from the national broadband scheme; and if he will make a statement on the matter.
Deputy Seán Kyne: This question relates to the order in which locations will be selected for works under the national broadband plan in view of areas such as those covered by the Knockferry exchange in County Galway, for example, being excluded in the previous national broadband scheme.
Deputy Alex White: The national broadband plan aims to ensure that every citizen and business, regardless of location, has access to a high quality, high speed broadband service. This will be achieved through a combination of commercial investments and a State-led intervention in areas where commercial services will not be provided.
The commercial telecommunications sector is currently investing approximately €2.5 billion in network upgrades and enhanced services with approximately 1.6 million of the 2.3 million premises in Ireland expected to have access to commercial high speed broadband services over the next two years.
Last November I published a national high speed coverage map for 2016. That map is available. The areas marked BLUE represent areas that will have access to the commercial sector. The AMBER areas show the target areas for the State intervention and include Knockferry in the townland of Knock North.
Members of the public can consult the map to establish for themselves the precise location and status of their individual premises.
Intensive design and planning work is under way in my Department to produce a detailed intervention strategy for the AMBER area which as I said includes the particular location referred to by the Deputy. Following a public consultation process on the draft intervention strategy this summer, I hope to move to formal procurement phase towards the end of this year in order to select a preferred bidder or bidders. The order by which locations throughout the country will be selected for delivery of service will be determined in consultation with the winning bidder or bidders.
I anticipate that the first homes and businesses will be connected in 2016 and connections will continue thereafter, with the intention of having all premises connected within a five year period. Ultimately, every premises in Ireland will have access to reliable high speed broadband as a consequence of this initiative.
This complex and ambitious project is a key priority for me and for the Government and aims to conclusively address current broadband connectivity issues in mainly rural parts of the country.
Deputy Seán Kyne: I thank the Minister for the reply. It goes without saying that the deficiencies in rural broadband are impacting on jobs, impeding regional recovery and depriving consumers from getting the best value in regard to broadband. I commend the Minister on the plans we have to roll out broadband and go to tender by the end of the year. It is an important and ambitious programme. Previous broadband plans looked good on paper. There were nice, glossy maps but they did not deliver to many areas near me, which are only seven or eight miles from Galway city, such as Tullykyne, Knockferry, Collinamuck and others which are as deserving of broadband as anywhere else. Has the Minister received the state aid permission from the European Union or when is that likely to come? Does he envisage that that may be a stumbling block or something that is a formality?
Deputy Alex White: There are two phases in regard to the application for state aid. One is the prenotification process and the other is the formal notification process. We are currently in the prenotification process and I expect to get to the formal notification process by Quarter 4. We can do that in parallel with all the other work we are doing to move to the tender and the culmination of the procurement process in terms of finding a bidder or bidders. The importance of the prenotification process in regard to state aids is that we can do a huge amount of preparatory work to ensure that when the formal application is made, many of the questions that might arise from the Commission will have already been addressed or substantially addressed.
My Department is working closely on this. The state aids application is only one aspect of it because we have to work out, and it touches on the Deputy’s question, issues to do with the likely governance arrangements in respect of the successful bidder. In terms of the ownership model we put in place, will the bidder own the network? The funding issues are very live and there is the question of funding and planning in respect of that. All the technical and regulatory questions are being dealt with in parallel by teams of advisers working to my national broadband plan team within the Department.
There is an enormous amount of work going on but by late summer we should be reaching the formal notification process for state aid application. There are different experiences of different countries but I hope that then could be expedited quickly.
Deputy Seán Kyne: I thank the Minister for that. Is he confident there will be no delay in the tendering by the end of the year? Also, does he have a preference for the areas that are chosen first? Would they be the areas with the highest population or the areas closer to urban centres?
Deputy Alex White: Unfortunately, we cannot come to a conclusion with regard to the order. That is something we would have to settle with the successful bidder or bidders. That is not something we can do in advance but as I said to Deputy Moynihan earlier, I publish a report every month and I will be publishing the May report at the end of this week or early next week. I am able to show each month what we have done in the previous month and what we plan to do in the coming period. We set out timelines last November-December when we published the map, and I have no reason to believe at this stage that there has been any slippage in the plan and intention of going to procurement by the end of this year.