- Deputy Brendan Smith asked the Minister for Communications, Climate Action and Environment if his attention has been drawn to the ongoing concerns in relation to poor mobile telephone coverage in areas such as counties Cavan and Monaghan; if he has discussed with the communications regulator the need for the telecommunications companies to make the necessary investments to ensure that all areas have adequate mobile coverage; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [51162/17]
Minister for Communications, Climate Action and Environment (Deputy Denis Naughten): Providing telecommunications services, including mobile phone services, is a matter for the relevant service providers operating in a fully liberalised market regulated by the Commission for Communications Regulation (ComReg), as independent Regulator. I do not have statutory authority to require commercial companies to rollout services and make specific investments in particular locations. The ComReg consumer helpline is accessible at firstname.lastname@example.org and I would urge consumers who feel they have not received an appropriate response from service providers to make contact with the Regulator. Notwithstanding ComReg’s independence, I recognise the frustration felt by Irish consumers – including in Counties Cavan and Monaghan – where telecommunications networks are not always delivering the services people expect. Accordingly, I specifically included in the Programme for Government a commitment to a Mobile Phone and Broadband Taskforce. In July 2016, I established the Taskforce to identify immediate solutions to broadband and mobile phone coverage deficits and investigate how better services could be provided to consumers, prior to the full build and roll-out of the network planned under the National Broadband Plan State intervention.
The Taskforce worked with key stakeholders to produce the December 2016 report available on my Department’s website, which contains 40 actions to alleviate some of the deficits. The Implementation Group I co-chair with Minister Kyne is overseeing implementation of the actions and comprises all key stakeholders responsible for delivery. This includes ComReg, who attend as both an action owner, and in an observer capacity in their role as the independent Regulator. Three meetings of the Implementation Group have been held so far – on 8 March, 5 July and 22 November.
This week I published the third Taskforce Quarterly Progress Report, which demonstrates that good progress has been made in delivering the actions. These reports show continuing progress and also the sustained level of engagement between actions owners and industry.
This engagement was clear in October at first National Stakeholder Forum in Athlone, which I hosted with Minister Kyne. It arose from the Taskforce’s recognition that, given the rapid technological change and the emergence of new equipment and solutions to deliver telecommunications services, stakeholders needed an opportunity to raise concerns on impediments to the rollout of services. Issues impacting on rollout were discussed at the Forum, and there were also some new recommended actions for the Taskforce to help improve services to consumers and in preparing for roll-out of the National Broadband Plan network, once contracts are in place.
The Taskforce’s achievements to date include:
– Funding of all local authorities to assign a Broadband Officer;
– Close cooperation with local authorities to develop local digital strategies, including Government working closely with local authorities to identify approximately 320 high speed Strategic Community Access Hubs to be connected at an early juncture after award of the NBP contract;
– ComReg’s development of a testing regime to check mobile handset performance which will inform consumers in choosing products and network services. ComReg will also develop a new network coverage map.
– Most local authorities applying waivers in respect of development contributions for telecoms development.
– Transport Infrastructure Ireland (TII) has constructed 80km of ducting on the M7/M8 corridor and 14km on the N25 in Cork, with more following in the coming months to help expedite infrastructure roll-out. TII is also reviewing the cost of duct access for telecoms.
In tandem with the work of the Taskforce, the release by ComReg of the 3.6GHz radio spectrum band, which has been identified at EU level as a primary band suitable for the introduction of 5G, will also contribute to addressing increasing mobile data demands and improve mobile coverage. Mobile operators’ commercial investment has also resulted in improved services, following ComReg’s 2012 multi-band spectrum auction. At least one operator now has in excess of 90% 4G population coverage.
All of these initiatives should assist in enhancing the quality of mobile phone and data services, particularly in rural areas such as Counties Cavan and Monaghan.