I very much welcome this legislation, the main principle of which is to include electronic communication in the statutory functions of the ESB. Most people would associate Eircom with communications and not the ESB. I am not impressed with the history of Eircom in the provision of broadband, a point Deputy Connaughton made in respect of rural Galway. The previous national broadband scheme certainly looked good and I was a member of Galway County Council at the time it was introduced. We would have had presentations from 3G. The scheme was accompanied by lovely colourful maps but coverage was not factual on the ground in many areas. Many places which would have been deemed to be covered by that scheme in reality were not covered. I am more hopeful of the Minister’s new national broadband plan. I know he has initiated a mapping procedure and he is examining European rules in terms of State aid to ensure we get adequate broadband provision. I am more hopeful of that.
It is always important to hear from constituents and to hear citations from them. I have two from constituents in rural Galway who are both business people. One person is a constituent living in Tullykyne near Moycullen and he has always been an Eircom subscriber. He wrote that his attempts to obtain broadband at his residence have been resoundingly unsuccessful, with his latest phone call to Eircom being answered in what he understands to be Mumbai, India and the operative on that occasion suggested that he contact his public representative. He also wrote that there are many homes in his area without broadband despite it being available in Moycullen and Rosscahill, all areas within three or four miles of here. He further wrote that the absence of broadband in 2013 is a travesty, particularly when he relies on it for work or for keeping in touch with family. He asked that I make representations to Eircom on his behalf. The second citation is from 2011 from another businessman who runs a guesthouse near Oughterard. He wrote that for many years he was not able to get any kind of fast Internet connection. He also wrote that the company 3G contacted him earlier this year and said he could get a satellite link which would give broadband connectivity provided through the national broadband scheme. He further wrote that he jumped at this, as running any kind of business without broadband is beyond a joke at this stage. He said that since 3 installed the satellite the service has been despicable, shameful and hugely time-wasting. He also understands that the State pays a large amount to 3 in order to provide businesses such as his in remote areas with broadband access. He further said the broadband he gets from 3 for which he pays each month is below dial-up speed on many occasions and completely unusable. Those are citations from people living in rural areas who are very frustrated with the quality of service they have received over many years.
I welcome the Bill and believe it will provide great opportunities. With respect to the joint venture between the ESB and another company or companies, the joint venture will own the fibre assets and it will pay ESB Networks to piggy-back on its pole infrastructure. Most fibre networks run to roadside cabinets, with copper wire used for the final stretches, and this results in the slowing down of speeds. As others have said, Eircom has initiated a large level of investment and there are plans in Moycullen and Barna to improve the infrastructure and the broadband speed. I welcome that and I have met with representatives there. The ESB joint venture will run fibre directly into the walls of buildings, which is the fibre to the building programme. It will improve competition in the sector, which is important also. I remain concerned and doubtful whether it would be viable for ESB Networks to serve the most rural areas economically, hence the importance of the national broadband scheme and the State intervening where the markets do not.
I have another example from the Knockferry exchange in my area near Rosscahill where I have contacted Eircom in terms of next generation access. It states that for commercial reasons it is not in a position to roll out next generation access to Knockferry at this stage. It also states that while it constantly reviews its business and investment plans, including considering technology and other changes, there are certain areas of the country where the commercial case for investment is exceedingly difficult to justify and, in this context, it is engaging with the Government in the context of the national broadband plan to identify areas where a joint approach between Government and industry could devise solutions to deliver the Government’s targets of 30 megs to all households regardless of location which will not be served by commercial operators.
There are many similar areas where it is not viable economically for Eircom at present and while welcoming this legislation I also welcome the initiatives I mentioned regarding the national broadband plan, the mapping and the Minister’s endeavours to ensure that State aid can be provided and that it would be within competition rules. I know from replies to parliamentary questions that the Minister has been in contact with the Commission on such funding.
I welcome the legislation, which is good for jobs, rural areas, those working from their homes in rural areas and the sustainability of a rural economy. I look forward to the passing of the legislation and, more importantly, to the roll out of the important fibre directly to buildings in rural areas across our country.