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Broadband Infrastructure (Continued)

Thursday, 17 December 2020

Dáil Éireann Debate
Vol. 1002 No. 7

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(Speaker Continuing)

[Deputy Heather Humphreys: Information on Heather Humphreys Zoom on Heather Humphreys] They have poor broadband where he lives and I told him the good news was there was a broadband connection point, BCP, close to him and, with a bit of adaptation, there was no reason that could not be fitted out for him to go in and do his work. We are continuing to roll out these BCPs across the country in black spots. We will have 300 of them up and running by next spring, including a number in all the counties I mentioned. There is a number of them here.

There is scope to include additional BCP locations next year. If Deputies have locations they feel are suitable, they should alert the broadband officer in their local authority, who can make the case to my Department and the Department of the Environment, Climate and Communications.

Under town and village renewal, we have been able to fund the kitting out of some of the sites with desks, computers and other equipment. It is important that we do that. I have a co-working facilities mapping exercise because I believe co-working is important. Not everybody wants to work from home permanently. There needs to be a blend and blended working may be the way of the future: three or four days working remotely and one or two days in the office with colleagues is probably the best. The Western Development Commission, WDC, is doing a mapping project of all the hubs along the Atlantic economic corridor from Kerry to Donegal. Some people may not know it but we already have about 350 hubs across the country. Some of them are more suited to community use than full-time remote working. My plan is that we do the mapping exercise across the country and develop an app in order that any worker can log on, find the hub closest to them and meet their needs.

The Deputy talked about job creation in the midlands, particularly in view of what is happening with peatlands. There will be a big boost to the IDA as it tries to attract some of the big tech companies when we show that we have a top-class network of these hubs across the country.

Deputy Barry Cowen: Information on Barry Cowen Zoom on Barry Cowen I thank the Minister for her response and the details contained therein and acknowledge the progress made to date, the commitment for quarter 1 and, in the case of my own constituency, to the five outstanding BCPs due for connection in quarter 1, mainly in south Offaly. I welcome that. I note what has been said on blended working and the connectivity required in relation to hubs. I note that the Minister mentioned black spots in my constituency or any other that may need verification and contact with broadband officers in respect of a commitment to work on those in relation to the mapping exercise in quarters 1 and 2.

Deputy David Stanton: Information on David Stanton Zoom on David Stanton What steps is the Minister taking to advertise and promote these hubs in various areas so people know about them and know how to use them? Will she be getting a report on the usage of these hubs in time? Has she asked for that and is it happening? Will students, who have had a tough time this year, be able to use the hubs for college work, in particular?

The Minister asked about places where there is very poor broadband. I draw her attention to the town of Cobh in my constituency, where broadband speeds are extremely poor. I get many calls from people in that large town. Is it her plan to put hubs in towns like that? They are not remote rural areas but many people will have to wait for a long time to get proper broadband connectivity and hubs like that in towns like Cobh could be of huge benefit in the short term.

Deputy Jennifer Murnane O'Connor: Information on Jennifer Murnane O'Connor Zoom on Jennifer Murnane O'Connor I thank the Minister. There has been investment in broadband in County Carlow, particularly in the south east, which is good. My point is about BCPs and the new locations. The Minister referred to Deputies' belief that there are needs in certain areas. In my home town, Carlow, I believe we have further needs there in different areas. I ask the Minister to look at these.

I believe that because of Covid, broadband has played a huge part for people working from home and students. It is important that we do not have certain parts of the county that have really good broadband and other areas, such as areas in my county, that do not get the same level of service. It is important we get this good broadband across the board. The hubs are welcome, as is the mapping exercise, which is important. We need timelines in order that we can let the people know because, with Covid, broadband has played a vital part for people working from home.

Deputy Heather Humphreys: Information on Heather Humphreys Zoom on Heather Humphreys I thank the Deputies. Every one of us is aware of the importance of broadband in rural areas. I thank the Deputies for raising this issue. In response to Deputy Stanton, the fact we are talking about it this morning creates awareness around what is happening. The local authorities have been doing a good deal of work on this. There are local broadband officers in every local authority. They identified the hubs and have been working with communities. In many community centres, people are voluntarily giving up their time to make sure the centre is open and people can go in and use the high-speed broadband.

On reports on usage, we will get them in due course but we want to roll out the first 300 connection points and I hope to have them all rolled out by the end of quarter 1. There were some delays because of the effect of Covid on the supply chain. They were not able to get the equipment they needed to make the connection.

This issue is important for students. Many of them are working at home because they have been told they cannot go to their colleges. It is difficult for them and they need access to high-speed broadband. They will be able to do that from these hubs and that is why the few bob to help them kit out the hall, put in the desks and a few dividers and have a wee private area is there. There is €5 million there for that. I intend to spend that early next year. We will be looking for calls on that.

Deputy David Stanton: Information on David Stanton Zoom on David Stanton Again, I ask the Minister to comment on the need for such hubs in towns and villages. We have them in remote areas, which is excellent, but, as I said, many towns like Cobh have weak broadband and many people are discommoded because of it.

Deputy Jennifer Murnane O'Connor: Information on Jennifer Murnane O'Connor Zoom on Jennifer Murnane O'Connor The Minister referred to new locations. If we feel there is an area in, for example, my own area of Carlow, do we contact the Minister or go to the local authority? What is the process if we have people contacting us?

An Leas-Cheann Comhairle: Information on Catherine Connolly Zoom on Catherine Connolly I call Deputy O'Sullivan.

Deputy Christopher O'Sullivan: Information on Christopher O'Sullivan Zoom on Christopher O'Sullivan I thank the Leas-Cheann Comhairle. I had been informed that my question would be grouped with Question No. 5 but it is not even on the-----

An Leas-Cheann Comhairle: Information on Catherine Connolly Zoom on Catherine Connolly There was a list but the Minister referred to four or five.

Deputy Christopher O'Sullivan: Information on Christopher O'Sullivan Zoom on Christopher O'Sullivan My question has not even appeared on the Question Paper but it is in relation to this exact issue. Could I have one minute to get my point across?

An Leas-Cheann Comhairle: Information on Catherine Connolly Zoom on Catherine Connolly Certainly.

Deputy Christopher O'Sullivan: Information on Christopher O'Sullivan Zoom on Christopher O'Sullivan I will speak up on behalf of the hundreds of constituents who have contacted my office since February who have had serious issues with broadband connections. Of course, this has been highlighted, exacerbated and underlined by the fact that during this pandemic people in their droves are being asked or are choosing to work from home. They are being put under serious pressure to achieve results. I recently read a report saying that working from home is increasing productivity within businesses. This really is the route we need to take so we need to get in those communities. It is an issue throughout my constituency, from Kinsale in the east to Castletownbere in the west. Can the Minister imagine what it would mean to towns across the constituency if people could work from home? If people could work from home and go for their coffee in the morning in Skibbereen, go for lunch in Clonakilty or have their dinner in Bandon, what would it mean to those businesses? People would be able to stay in rural Ireland and stay in west Cork, not commuting to the bigger cities but spending money in their local communities. It is vital. I thank the Leas-Cheann Comhairle for entertaining me.

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