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 Header Item Mortgage Arrears Proposals (Continued)
 Header Item Broadband Service Charges

Wednesday, 26 March 2014

Dáil Éireann Debate
Vol. 835 No. 2

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(Speaker Continuing)

[Deputy Brian Hayes: Information on Brian Hayes Zoom on Brian Hayes] However, I accept the point the Deputy raises that for those who are trying to get a workable solution to the banks and who then hear willy-nilly of what I understand to be a small number of cases, in which some kind of debt write-down has been given as part of the solution, a more substantive statement by the bank or possibly the bank's involvement in a parliamentary committee setting out the circumstances would be of general assistance. The point made by Deputy Ann Phelan is absolutely on the money. People need to know these things and customers who are dealing with the bank and who are having difficulty in arriving at a solution also need to hear this. Consequently, I echo her remarks.

Broadband Service Charges

Deputy Michael Moynihan: Information on Michael Moynihan Zoom on Michael Moynihan I wish to raise the need for the Government to discuss the cost of broadband in Ireland and appreciate the presence in the Chamber of the Minister for Communications, Energy and Natural Resource to respond to this Topical Issue. I am sure the Minister is aware a new study has found that Ireland has the third highest cost of broadband in the European Union when making comparisons in respect of the cheapest package available. The research was carried out by the European Commission last year and examined comparative costs of broadband across the European Union. The study, carried out by SamKnows, found that Irish consumers who get their broadband using xDSL technology only receive 49.9% of the speeds advertised by their Internet service provider, which is well below the European Union average of 71% of the advertised speeds. I have raised this issue a number of times, both in this Chamber and in committees and so on. This finding is shocking and the Minister will remember that I tabled an amendment to the ESB (Electronic Communications Networks) Bill 2013 to deal with this issue, which was rejected at the time.

The survey found out that the Irish consumer pays a minimum of €31.40 per month for broadband up to a maximum of slightly more than €60 per month, which ranks as the third highest in the European Union. Surprisingly, within the European Union's Internal Market, the research found a 400% variation in price between the cheapest and most expensive broadband packages, underlining the variable nature of broadband charges. For a country such as Ireland, which prides itself on being at the cutting-edge of technology in the world, this is not good news as it has an impact. Services such as broadband are increasingly necessary and are essential to carry out business and to compete on a commercial level and the cost of such services affects how consumers act. The high cost of broadband will restrict people from moving to e-commerce and e-services. Another survey carried out by Eurobarometer found that approximately three quarters of people living in Ireland limit calls made on their mobile telephones to national numbers and numbers in other European Union states as a result of the charges. The study also found that approximately 70% of people in Ireland limit their fixed line calls to other European Union countries and mobile or fixed line networks run by other operators, due to concerns about charges. In a European Union that espouses the Single Market, this is most disappointing. The Minister should be working to end these charges as soon as possible and should support any action to so do in the European Parliament.

As for the cost of broadband in Ireland, as I stated during the debate on the aforementioned Bill, I accept and welcome the entry of the ESB into the market. This should increase competition in the broadband and electronic communications markets, which hopefully will result in reduced costs and increased broadband coverage throughout the country, although I am not certain whether it will extend to those areas that are devoid of broadband coverage at present. I ask the Minister to outline his thoughts as to the reason broadband in Ireland is so expensive. He also might outline the actions he will take in future to try to bring down the cost, as well as outlining what he intends to do to ensure that Irish consumers get the service for which they are paying, that is, the service that is being advertised. I assure the Minister that my party will be supportive of any measures he might outline to bring about better and lower-cost broadband, as well as a better service of broadband throughout the communities to make sure that businesses and homes in Ireland have a proper broadband service.

Minister for Communications, Energy and Natural Resources (Deputy Pat Rabbitte): Information on Pat Rabbitte Zoom on Pat Rabbitte I am grateful to Deputy Moynihan for giving me the opportunity to address the House on this matter. As the Deputy is aware, Ireland's telecommunications market has been liberalised since 1999. This means that retail price fixing for deregulated services is not permitted. Governments can, however, establish an investment environment that promotes an active competitive market. Hopefully, this will in turn improve the quality of services and place downward pressure on retail prices. Moreover, the commercial broadband market has made progress, with the number of broadband subscribers increasing from 600,000 to more than 1.6 million within five years. Increasingly, consumers are opting for bundled services from a single provider. These now account for more than 50% of all fixed-line subscriptions. Moreover, smart phone adoption is continuing to increase, with an increase of more than 16% recorded last year. In the fixed-line broadband market, customers are moving from lower to higher broadband speeds, where available.

It remains the case that many towns, villages and communities are not seeing similar progress. Ireland's widely dispersed population means there are some areas in which it simply is not viable for the commercial sector to provide services. In August 2012, I launched the national broadband plan to change radically the broadband landscape by ensuring that high-speed broadband is available to all citizens and businesses. This will be achieved by encouraging the commercial markets to do so where the business case is present and by establishing a State-led investment for areas in which it is not commercially viable for the market to invest. Since publication of the plan, investments by the commercial sector are under way in both fixed-line and wireless high-speed broadband services. For example, Eircom has plans to pass 1.4 million addresses with its next-generation broadband service, while UPC has increased its entry-level and maximum speeds to 120 Mbps and 200 Mbps, respectively.

As Deputy Moynihan noted, recent legislation to facilitate the ESB's entry into the telecommunications market also can help the roll-out of high-speed broadband, as well as facilitating greater competition. Intensive work continues in my Department in respect of the State-led investment to secure the countrywide introduction of next-generation broadband access. By implementing the national broadband plan, I am committed to ensuring that all parts of Ireland have access to high-speed broadband, with a view to ensuring that all citizens and businesses can participate fully in a digitally-enabled society. The plan will ensure that a combination of commercial and State-led investment delivers access to high-speed broadband service to all as quickly as possible. Therefore, competing service providers and informed customers moving across providers to secure the best value will exercise the required downward pressure on retail prices.

Deputy Michael Moynihan: Information on Michael Moynihan Zoom on Michael Moynihan Gabhaim buíochas leis an Aire. There are two issues here, namely, the cost of the broadband and the service level in respect of the broadband. I have received letters and documentation from all over the country, including from one community located 15 miles from O'Connell Street, Dublin, bemoaning the lack of broadband. The cost of broadband must be considered and one must ensure the service providers are competitive in comparison with other European Union countries. However, people everywhere throughout the country are telling me about one single broadband-related issue, which pertains to young people in education. For example, one primary school lacks a broadband service and its pupils are greatly disadvantaged when they go on to second level, which makes use of interactive broadband and so forth. It is necessary to force a rethink on this serious issue of broadband cover because this is critical. Two issues are associated with this Topical Issue and the Minister has responded to the first in respect of the cost.

Deputy Pat Rabbitte: Information on Pat Rabbitte Zoom on Pat Rabbitte I beg the Deputy's pardon but I strayed there. He stated there was one issue above all others that is being relayed back to him.

Deputy Michael Moynihan: Information on Michael Moynihan Zoom on Michael Moynihan Yes, the issue pertains to the actual coverage of broadband right across the country. As the Leas-Cheann Comhairle will be aware, I have travelled extensively in Ireland in recent weeks but this is the issue in every community, including one only 15 miles from Dublin's O'Connell Street, as well as communities in Wexford, west Cork and north Cork. One school in north Cork lacks broadband coverage and it is of vital importance to target seriously this issue because, as I have stated many times over the past two years, there is an major issue regarding the divide between those who have coverage and those who do not.

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