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ESB (Electronic Communications Networks) Bill 2013: Report Stage (Continued)

Thursday, 13 February 2014

Dáil Éireann Debate
Vol. 830 No. 3

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Deputy Pat Rabbitte: Information on Pat Rabbitte Zoom on Pat Rabbitte The broadband speeds experienced at customers' premises are dependent on a number of variables which are not within the control of Internet service providers. Connections using wireless equipment such as laptops, notebooks and tablets, improve portability and convenience for the user, but at the cost of the diminished speeds compared to fixed wire connections. Even in the case of fixed line connections, speeds will be compromised if they are routed across the internal house wiring, using power line adaptors. Other variables at the users' premises which can reduce the broadband speed delivered by service providers include the equipment used by the consumers, the distance from the consumers' equipment to the network access point, the number of users accessing the broadband network in any premises at any time, and the capacity of the server being accessed in the case of the Internet. It is important, therefore, to distinguish between broadband speeds delivered to customers' premises by service providers, and the customers' experience which can deteriorate due to circumstances within the premises and beyond the direct control of the service provider. I would point out, however, that broadband speeds in the marketplace are evolving rapidly and are likely to continue to do so in the future, as new technologies and enhancements arise.

The ESB proposal, as outlined, is to install an electronic communications network on its electricity distribution network using fibre optic technology. A feature of fibre optic technology is that it is future proofed, due to its ability to deliver broadband speeds comparable to or exceeding those predicted to evolve in alternative broadband technologies. Accordingly, it is highly likely that the ESB proposal would not have any technical impediments to delivering advertised speeds at any time of the day or night. In addition, if the ESB proposal proceeds, it will enter a fully liberalised market, using the most advanced technology.

The introduction of the amendment proposed by Deputy Moynihan would impose a more onerous obligation on the ESB than applies to other competing service providers. It will also create a biased penalty or sanction, applicable to the ESB and companies with which it deals, but not applicable to its competitors. On these grounds, I cannot support the amendment proposed by the Deputy. This is not to suggest that I am unaware of the complaints that he raises regarding the advertising of broadband speeds compared to the actual user experience. I am advised that ComReg, the independent market regulator, has taken a number of proactive initiatives to address consumer concerns with respect to broadband speeds. It has worked closely with the Advertising Standards Authority of Ireland to require that advertising campaigns are realistic in marketing indicative broadband speeds, based on typical performance in the busy hour. It also provides enhanced customer information and practical advice on its website.

More recently, ComReg has announced its intention to launch a pilot project to measure, quantify and report on broadband speeds delivered to customers' premises in different settings. This project will measure speeds on the network side of routers or modems to avoid the variables that I outlined previously at representative samples of individual customers' premises who volunteered to participate. It is ComReg's intention to make this information publicly available in a manner that will allow users to assess how competing Internet service providers compare in terms of their advertised speeds versus the speeds actually delivered. I understand that ComReg plans to launch this pilot in the second quarter of this year. I fully support this initiative, which I hope will contribute to addressing our shared concerns about misleading claims made by service providers with regard to download speeds.

It is my belief that a legislative remedy, along the lines proposed by Deputy Moynihan in this amendment, which would only apply to one potential service provider, is not the appropriate way to deal with this more general concern. I trust the Deputy will accept that, for the reasons outlined, I am unable to accept the amendment.

Deputy Michael Colreavy: Information on Michael Colreavy Zoom on Michael Colreavy I support Deputy Moynihan in what he is saying. Equally, I understand the Minister's point that this cannot be applied to just one company. Perhaps it could be firmed up a little bit more under the legislation governing the Advertising Standards Authority, because there seems to be such a huge discrepancy between the advertised speeds and the actual speeds.

I would be concerned about the speed of the roll-out of fibre optic broadband to areas other than the centres of population that have already been addressed in the discussions on this Bill. I would like to see some specific targets in respect of the public service obligation rolled out to the more rural areas. Perhaps the Minister can advise us on the schedule for that work.

Deputy Paudie Coffey: Information on Paudie Coffey Zoom on Paudie Coffey We discussed this issue at length on Committee Stage. I can understand the thrust of the amendment, in fairness to Fianna Fáil. There are many service providers advertising the provision of broadband at the moment, but when it is installed it is not what was understood to be the package or the service. There is an issue with the quality of broadband, the way it is advertised and the way it is sold. However, as the Minister has stated, I believe this is a matter for ComReg, which is the regulator of the sector, and perhaps consumer agencies as well, to look more closely at this area. The amendment should not be enshrined in primary legislation.

This is not a cheap political shot at Fianna Fáil, but the reason we have a substandard level of telecommunications and broadband infrastructure in this country is due to the lack of investment into the existing Eircom networks, because those Eircom assets were sold. It was one of the biggest mistakes that this country has ever made, and it has put us at a serious competitive disadvantage in the telecommunications area. In fairness, Eircom has recently outlined plans to invest in its infrastructure and that is to be welcomed. That will increase competition, efficiency and quality in this area. The Bill will allow for increased competition in this area, and I hope that prices will drop because we will have a new efficient competitor in the market.

In support of Deputy Colreavy, any Deputy from a rural constituency would be concerned about the speed at which quality broadband on fibre networks can be delivered to all regions in the country. I understand that this is a commercial venture. The companies will target large urban areas initially, and when they capture a customer base, I hope this Bill will allow the new service providers to target less populated areas in rural Ireland. They will have the infrastructure available to them under this Bill, and I hope we will see quality fibre-optic broadband delivered to the regions as soon as possible. I know that many Deputies will pursue this matter and campaign for better services in the regions.

Deputy Michael Moynihan: Information on Michael Moynihan Zoom on Michael Moynihan The amendment speaks for itself. We are trying to make sure that those who sell broadband can deliver what they are selling. I think it should be enshrined in primary legislation. I will not be pressing this amendment, but I wish to give notice that I intend to bring forward a Bill to make sure that these rules are in statutory legislation, and not just in a code of conduct. I hope the Minister will be mindful of that. Many services are providing broadband that does not add up to what they were selling.

  Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Debate adjourned.

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