A range of measures have been put in place to achieve the Government’s commitment to ensure that ‘next generation broadband’ is available ‘to every home and business in the state’.1 These measures include the Rural Broadband Scheme designed to deliver a basic broadband internet service to rural premises which cannot access it directly from an existing internet service provider.2 In 2009, the Government identified approximately 25,000 homes and businesses not otherwise identified by the earlier National Broadband Scheme.3 Approximately 3700 out of 5000 applications qualified for this scheme.4 A total of 509 applicants have been served by the scheme (a referral service),5 and although more than €13 million was allocated under the European Agricultural Fund for Rural Development to this project, no public money was spent as private providers indicated that they could provide the necessary service.6 However, both schemes have terminated and no rural interventions are currently active.
The National Broadband Plan published in August 2012 aimed to rollout broadband to rural areas.7 However, by the end of 2013, only 82 per cent of households had access to home internet; 29 per cent of households without internet access stated the reason as lack of availability in the area.8 The Government has acknowledged that there is a ‘connectivity challenge in rural Ireland’ and has given a commitment to rollout fibre broadband services to rural locations as the majority of investment by commercial entities is in relation to urban areas.9 At the time of writing, the definition of ‘next generation access’ is awaiting clarification by the Government and details of the consequent intervention area is expected to be published by the end of 2014.10 Further consultations may address plans for government intervention.11 In relation to mobile services, the Communications Regulator (ComReg) has set a population coverage obligation of a mere 35 per cent outdoor coverage in each area for existing operators delivering new generation data services.12 Given Ireland’s low population density outside Dublin, this could result in very limited implementation of the new technology in rural areas.13
FLAC urges the Committee to recommend that the State:
Adequately resource the National Broadband Plan to ensure that anyone living in a rural area requiring access to broadband internet can enjoy the benefits of scientific progress and access it without difficulties.
Strengthen the rural coverage mandate of the Communications Regulator.
Ensure adequate state interventions where existing commercial internet service providers fail to provide rural broadband.
1 Government of Ireland (2011) Programme for Government 2011-2016, Dublin: Stationery Office, p.15.
2 Department of Communications, Energy and Natural Resources. ‘Rural Broadband Scheme Announced by Minister Rabbitte’ [press release], 9 May 2011.
3 European Commission (2009) State Aid No N 607/2009 – Ireland: Rural Broadband Reach, Brussels: European Commission, p.2.
4 Department of Communications, Energy and Natural Resources (2012) Rural Broadband Scheme – Final Update December 2012.
5 Department of Communications, Energy and Natural Resources (2012) Rural Broadband Scheme – Final Update December 2012.
6 Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine, Simon Coveney TD, Parliamentary Questions: Written Answers, [23294/13], 15 May 2013.
7 Department of Communications, Energy and Natural Resources (2012) National Broadband Plan, Dublin: DCENR.
8 Central Statistics Office (2013) Information Society Statistics – Households 2013, Cork: CSO.
9 Minister for Communications, Energy and Natural Resources, Pat Rabbitte TD, Parliamentary Questions: Written Answers [22121/14], 27 May 2014.
10 Minister for Communications, Energy and Natural Resources, Alex White TD, Parliamentary Questions: Written Answers, [34222/14], 17 September 2014.
11 Department of Communications, Energy and Natural Resources (2014) National Broadband Plan: Call for input on key aspects of the State-led intervention, Dublin: DCENR.
12717 Wireless Telegraphy (Liberalised Use and Preparatory Licences in the 800 MHz, 900 MHz and 1800 MHz bands) Regulations, 2012 (SI 251/2012)
13 Government of Ireland (2012) Census 2011 Profile 1 – Town and Country, Dublin: Stationery Office, p. 10.
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