Dáil Éireann - Volume 625 - 19 October, 2006
Written Answers. - Telecommunications Services.
Ms B. Moynihan-Cronin Ms B. Moynihan-Cronin
Ms B. Moynihan-Cronin asked the Minister for Communications, Marine and Natural Resources if he will bring forward measures to ensure Ireland is 100% broadband-enabled after the European Competitive Telecommunications Association recently reported that Ireland’s broadband growth had dropped from 20% to 19% since the last quarterly survey and currently ranks 14th out the EU 15 for broadband penetration when the original target set by his Department was to be at EU-average or better by 2005; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [33422/06]
Mr. N. Dempsey Mr. N. Dempsey
Mr. N. Dempsey: The provision of telecommunications services, including broadband, is a matter in the first instance for  the private sector companies operating in a fully liberalised market, regulated by the independent Commission for Communications Regulation, ComReg.
However, it has been clear for some time that the sector has failed to invest at the level necessary to keep pace with the demand for broadband. My Department’s regional broadband programme is addressing the infrastructure deficit by building high-speed open access broadband networks, in association with the local and regional authorities, in the major towns and cities. These Metropolitan Area Networks (MANs) will allow the private sector to offer world-class broadband services at competitive costs.
Twenty-seven MANs have been completed under the first phase and are currently being managed by ENet, the Management Services Entity. The second phase extends the programme to over 90 towns with a population of 1,500 and above.
For rural communities with populations under 1,500 and the hinterlands of larger towns, my Department offers funding under the Group Broadband Scheme (GBS) to enable them to become self-sufficient in broadband, in association with service providers. The scheme is technology-neutral, allowing the community to select the most suitable broadband delivery platform for the area. To date, over 160 projects have been approved for funding under this Programme.
A joint industry/Government fund of €18 million has been established for the Broadband for Schools Programme to resource the provision of high speed broadband connectivity to all primary and post primary schools in the country by end Autumn 2006, at no cost to the schools themselves. 95% of schools have broadband installed to date; the aim is to complete the outstanding schools as soon as possible.
Despite Government investment in broadband in the regions through the regional broadband programme, there are still some parts of the country where the private sector will be unable to justify the commercial provision of broadband connectivity. Options to address the gaps in broadband coverage are currently being considered.
29% of Irish households now have broadband (410,000 of 1.4 million). Broadband take-up in Ireland grew by 112% during the first 8.5 months of 2006 when 140,000 subscribers were added.
Broadband take-up is continuing to accelerate at a rate of 19% compared to the average EU growth rate of 9%. When discussing Ireland’s ranking in the ‘take-up’ league tables, there are two important points to note: Firstly, the statistics used are based on the number of subscribing households per 100 inhabitants. Households and population are used because such data is generally available for the countries participating in the league tables. However, in Ireland’s case, the 10.2% “subscribers” per 100 “inhabitants” does not paint an accurate picture. Ireland’s relatively  small number of households for the size of our population puts Ireland at a distinct disadvantage when it comes to the league tables. It is more accurate to highlight the fact that 29% of Irish households subscribed to a broadband service in September 2006. The last available data for the EU15 (December 2005) show that 34% of the EU15 households had broadband.
Secondly Ireland’s ranking also reflects the relatively late launch of affordable and competitive broadband services in Ireland by telecoms and cable TV companies in the early 2000s. In contrast, Ireland is now one of the fastest growing broadband markets in the European Union. In fact, broadband take-up has more than tripled to date since I set a target of 400,000 in late 2004.
Dáil Éireann 625 Written Answers. Telecommunications Services.