Dáil Éireann - Volume 540 - 04 July, 2001

Written Answers. - Internet Access.

101. Mr. D. Carey asked the Minister for Public Enterprise if her attention has been drawn to the [623] fact that Internet access for customers is now exceptionally costly and that recent studies indicate that Ireland is falling behind other countries; and the plans she has to overcome this. [20258/01]

Minister for Public Enterprise (Mrs. O'Rourke): Recent reports suggest a high Internet usage in Ireland. The Global eCommerce Report 2001, produced by British research from TNS Interactive shows Ireland has the fourth highest proportion of internet users among the 18 European countries surveyed – at 39% of all over-15s. Earlier last week, Nielsen-NetRatings figures for Ireland showed that the areas of finance, news and travel are driving the overall growth in internet usage. Nielsen figures show a 74% growth in Irish internet usage over the last year.

The provision of telecommunications services including internet services is a matter in the first instance for the companies who now operate in a fully liberalised market, regulated by the independent Director of Telecommunications Regulation. My responsibility is for public policy in the sector within which these companies operate. The widest possible availability of competitive services has traditionally been an important objective of Irish telecommunications policy.

The communications regulation Bill, which is currently being drafted, aims to replace the Office of the Director of Telecommunications Regulation with a commission for communications regulation, and also seeks to broaden the current scope of telecommunications regulatory powers in the light of the emerging new EU regulatory framework.

I have also, in recent years, put in place a number of initiatives, which seek to address gaps in communications infrastructure in Ireland, particularly by bringing broadband connectivity to regional and rural areas.

Under the National Development Plan 1994-1999, 26 million was made available to support the roll-out of broadband to the regions. Some 13 projects which rolled-out broadband nation-wide were supported and are now nearing completion.

The figure allocated to telecommunications initiatives has been significantly increased under the National Development Plan 2000-2006, to 200 million. Two-thirds of this allocation will be spent in the BMW region. A first call for proposals was run last year and on foot of submissions received I signed nine contracts at the beginning of the year which will result in additional investment in the regions in broadband infrastructure. Information is available at www.ndpcomms.gov.ie.

Further calls for proposals for investment in telecommunications infrastructure will issue in 2001.