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Written Answers - Telecommunications Services

Tuesday, 27 March 2012

Dáil Éireann Debate
Vol. 760 No. 3

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 370.  Deputy Catherine Murphy Information on Catherine Murphy Zoom on Catherine Murphy  asked the Minister for Communications, Energy and Natural Resources Information on Pat Rabbitte Zoom on Pat Rabbitte  the remedies which are available for premises which cannot obtain a broadband service commercially due to their geographical location and who are not applicants under the rural broadband scheme; if he intends to pursue any further measures of State assistance in this regard; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [16784/12]

Minister for Communications, Energy and Natural Resources (Deputy Pat Rabbitte): Information on Pat Rabbitte Zoom on Pat Rabbitte Ireland’s telecommunications market has been liberalised since 1999 and thus the delivery of broadband services is a matter, in the first instance, for private sector commercial operators. The State only intervenes in cases of clear market failure, such as in the cases of both the National Broadband Scheme (NBS) and the Rural Broadband Scheme (RBS). Any such State intervention is subject to EU State Aid scrutiny to ensure that it does not give rise to an unacceptable level of market distortion.

The availability of funding from the European Economic Recovery Plan enabled the Department of Agriculture Food and the Marine to make funding available under the Rural Development Programme (RDP) aimed at improving rural broadband. The RBS was developed by my Department as a measure under the RDP and was launched last year, aimed at making a basic broadband service available to those individual un-served premises in rural non-NBS areas who wish to avail of such services. Under the funding rules, this measure must be completed by the end of 2012.

Approximately 3,700 applications qualified under the Scheme and the Verification Phase of the Scheme is now underway. Under this phase, the details of applicants have been passed to Internet Service Providers (ISPs) who are participating in the Scheme and these companies [855]have responded to my Department indicating where they may be able to offer services. My Department will shortly be providing further information to the participating ISPs to enable them to write to applicants with offers of service. I expect that these written offers will be sent out in April and, subject to final agreement with the ISPs concerned, the provision of services to applicants during this phase of the Scheme will be carried out over the period May to July this year.

The response to date by industry suggests that virtually all premises in the country are capable of obtaining a broadband service from a supplier using one of the available technology platforms i.e. DSL, fixed or mobile wireless, cable or satellite. Where a commercial service has been shown to be available, the State cannot intervene with a subvention for alternative services. Accordingly, I do not anticipate the introduction of a further similar scheme in the future.

The Government accepts that the widespread availability of high speed broadband is a key requirement in delivering future economic and social development. The Next Generation Broadband Taskforce, which I convened last summer, has an important role to play in this regard. It comprises the CEOs of all of the major telecommunications companies operating in the Irish market, as well as CEOs of some other companies that provide broadband services. The purpose of the Taskforce is to discuss and report on policy issues and proposals in relation to the provision of high speed broadband across Ireland. I expect that the Taskforce will help to identify how best to deliver wider customer access to high-speed broadband generally and thereby assist in delivering on the commitment in the Programme for Government. The Taskforce will conclude its deliberations shortly. It is my intention to consider the findings, conclusions and recommendations of the report of the Taskforce and to move quickly thereafter to put in place the optimal policy environment for the delivery of high speed broadband.

 371.  Deputy Simon Harris Information on Simon Harris Zoom on Simon Harris  asked the Minister for Communications, Energy and Natural Resources Information on Pat Rabbitte Zoom on Pat Rabbitte  the number of houses participating in the national broadband scheme in County Wicklow; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [16832/12]

 372.  Deputy Simon Harris Information on Simon Harris Zoom on Simon Harris  asked the Minister for Communications, Energy and Natural Resources Information on Pat Rabbitte Zoom on Pat Rabbitte  the minimum standards acceptable for satellite Internet supply under the national broadband scheme; the quality of service this should enable users to avail of; if his attention has been drawn to the difficulties facing some users of the service in accessing certain websites (details supplied); and if he will make a statement on the matter. [16833/12]

 373.  Deputy Simon Harris Information on Simon Harris Zoom on Simon Harris  asked the Minister for Communications, Energy and Natural Resources Information on Pat Rabbitte Zoom on Pat Rabbitte  if there are any plans to improve the standard of broadband to those availing of the national broadband scheme in rural areas; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [16834/12]

Minister for Communications, Energy and Natural Resources (Deputy Pat Rabbitte): Information on Pat Rabbitte Zoom on Pat Rabbitte I propose to take Questions Nos. 371 to 373, inclusive, together.

Under the National Broadband Scheme (NBS), services are available since October 2010 from the NBS service provider, 3, to persons with a fixed residence or fixed business in each of the 1,028 Electoral Divisions (ED) designated to be covered under the Scheme. There are 37 EDs within the NBS Coverage Area in County Wicklow. To date, 1,240 customers within these EDs have chosen to avail of the NBS service.

With regard to plans to improve the standard of the NBS service, a contractual upgrade of the specifications of the NBS mobile product will take place from October of this year, without an increase in the monthly fee. Following the upgrade, the minimum download speed will [856]increase from 1.6Mbps to 2.3Mbps while the minimum upload speed will increase from 1.2Mbps to 1.4Mbps, with a maximum contention ratio of 18:1. The combined monthly data allowance will move from 25GB to 40GB.

For technical reasons associated with location, the NBS contract always envisaged that a small percentage of premises would require connection via satellite. For satellite customers, currently minimum speeds of 1Mbps download and 128Kbps upload, subject to a maximum contention ratio of 48:1 and a monthly data allowance of 11GB apply. There will be a contractual upgrade to the NBS satellite product in July 2012, which will see the minimum download speed increase to 1.6Mbps and minimum upload speed increase to 256Kbps, while the contention ratio and data allowance remain the same. Similarly, following the further satellite upgrade in February 2014, the minimum download speed will increase to 2Mbps while the other specifications remain the same. My Department has put in place robust monitoring arrangements to ensure that the NBS delivers the minimum specified service or better to all users. The NBS contract guarantees service levels and imposes a service credit regime on 3 with significant financial consequences in the event that minimum specification service levels are not met. I understand that if a customer’s usage remains within the monthly data allowance of 11GB, customers should not be experiencing any problems accessing “everyday” websites. Should such problems arise, the customer should contact 3 and their issues will be addressed. 3’s customer care centre can be contacted 24 hours a day 7 days a week by phone at 1913 (free of charge), via email to nbssupport@three.ie or by post to 3 Customer Services, Hutchison 3G Ireland Limited, PO Box 333, Dublin 2.

My Department has a role when customers have fully utilised the established complaints process. It operates a dedicated NBS mailbox, which NBS customers can contact by email at nationalbroadbandscheme@dcenr.gov.ie with any comments or complaints they may have about their NBS service. Should any customers have unresolved problems with their NBS service, they can contact my Department and my officials will liaise with 3 to remedy their service performance issues.


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