Totally inadequate broadband telecommunications infrastructure in Cavan/Monaghan is a source of serious concern to households, businesses, farmers and indeed the entire community – Brendan Smith TD

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Yesterday in Dáil Éireann I appealed again to the Communications Minister to ask the telecom companies to ensure that some priority is afforded to counties such as Cavan/Monaghan in the roll-out of broadband due to the particular challenges the local economy faces due to BREXIT.

Attached is a report of Dáil questions to Minister Naughten on this issue.

National Broadband Plan Implementation

  1. Deputy Brendan Smith   asked the Minister for Communications, Climate Action and Environment   the progress expected in 2018 in the upgrade of broadband telecommunications infrastructure throughout counties Cavan and Monaghan; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [18012/18]

Deputy Brendan Smith:   The Minister is aware from the ongoing representations I have made to him in meetings that the totally inadequate broadband telecommunications infrastructure in Cavan-Monaghan is a source of serious concern to households, businesses, farmers and the entire community. Although there have been some launches of upgraded infrastructure by various companies, there is a constant concern about the delays and tardiness in having the infrastructure upgraded. Can the Minister ask the companies to give some priority to the Border region in view of the many difficulties we currently face and those we will face due to Brexit?

Deputy Denis Naughten:   I propose to take Questions Nos. 31 and 43 together.

I am glad to return the topic of the national broadband plan and to speak on the matter of broadband services in counties Cavan and Monaghan in particular. As I have related to the House previously, I am only too aware of the impact a lack of reliable high-speed broadband has on the ability of citizens to carry out important tasks in their daily lives. I fully acknowledge the impact this has on people in Cavan and Monaghan which, along with my own county of Roscommon and County Galway, are among the areas with the lowest percentage of premises having access to high-speed broadband. I am certain the Deputies’ constituents have voiced their frustrations and concerns on this matter just as strongly as mine. The importance of this service to all citizens underpins the Government’s continued commitment to the national broadband plan.

Some 19,500 premises in County Cavan and 15,000 in County Monaghan currently have access to high-speed broadband. Approximately 2,300 of those in County Cavan and 2,000 of those in County Monaghan received that access via the ongoing commercial roll-out by Eir.  The roll-out is subject to a commitment agreement I entered into with the company in April 2017 in regard to its plans to provide high-speed broadband to 300,000 premises in rural areas on a commercial basis. Eir has committed to completing the roll-out by the end of this year. A further 5,500 premises in Cavan and 2,500 in Monaghan are to be completed as part of that ongoing roll-out. The remaining 17,000 premises in Cavan, and 15,500 in Monaghan, will receive a high-speed broadband connection via the national broadband plan State intervention phase.

My Department is in the final stages of a formal procurement process to select a company that will roll out a new high-speed broadband network in the State intervention area. The Department will engage with the bidder to ensure the most efficient deployment as part of the contract. The intention is that will be deployed across the country at the same time.

In the interim, practical initiatives will continue to be addressed through the ongoing work of the mobile phone and broadband task force to address obstacles and improve connectivity in respect of existing and future mobile phone and broadband services. Of the 40 actions identified by the task force for 2017, some 29 have been completed. Work on the remaining 11, along with 23 new measures, is part of the 2018 work programme of the task force and will lead to further improvements in services for consumers, including those in Cavan and Monaghan.

Under the task force, engagement between telecommunications operators and local authorities through broadband officers continues apace.  The broadband officers act as single points of contact in local authorities for their communities.  The appointment of these officers is already reaping rewards in terms of ensuring a much greater degree of consistency in engagements with operators and clearing obstacles to developing infrastructure.  There is a link to a list of these local broadband officers on my Department’s website.

Deputy Brendan Smith:   I thank the Minister for his reply. He is well aware that target dates have not been met in the past. Will he ask the telecom companies to ensure that some priority is afforded to counties such as Cavan and Monaghan? He is well aware that our local economy is very much based on agrifood, construction products and engineering products.

[Deputy Brendan Smith:  ]  Those particular sectors are heavily dependent on exports to the British market. They face particular challenges at this time, and they will face further challenges when Britain leaves the European Union. They need whatever assistance the Government can give in ensuring that infrastructure is upgraded. It is not acceptable that some of those companies cannot conduct their business online as they need to. Can the Minister ask the companies to give some priority to regions that will be adversely impacted by Brexit?

Deputy Denis Naughten:   I accept the point that Deputy Brendan Smith makes. He is correct. Rural communities that are dependent on agriculture, light engineering and the agrifood sectors are the ones that are most exposed to Brexit and have the most to gain by the delivery of the national broadband plan. That is why I am determined to ensure that we get this contract signed as quickly as possible, and more importantly, that we see the physical roll-out of infrastructure right across this country taking place as soon as possible. On an ongoing basis, I am engaging with fibre, wireless and mobile providers to see how the State can facilitate them in the commercial deployment of that infrastructure in order that the businesses to which the Deputy refers at least can be provided with a service, albeit not the gold-plated service they will get under the national broadband plan. At this stage, many of those businesses need a service. It would be great to have a high-speed service but a service is better than none. We are trying to ensure that at least that happens in the short term to ensure those companies have a service that meets their day-to-day needs, pending the roll-out of the national broadband plan.

Deputy Brendan Smith:   I agree with the Minister. I know of instances where small-scale employers must drive into the nearest town to email quotes and invoices to businesses. It is not acceptable. I ask the Minister to ensure that the companies he spoke well about in the sectors that need particular assistance and are heavily dependent on the export market, especially the sterling market, are given particular attention by the telecommunications companies to ensure the necessary infrastructure is put in place as quickly as possible.

Deputy Denis Naughten:   In response to Deputy Brendan Smith’s point about businesses being obliged to travel into the local town, it is absolutely soul-destroying to see that happening in this day and age. That is not something that I want to see continuing. That is why the Government and I are determined to ensure we unlock as much commercial investment as possible, first through the broadband task force, in the form of wireless deployment or any other type of telecommunications deployment. This is intended to ensure the particular practice referred to does not continue. People should at least have a basic broadband service in order that they can use email. They should not be in a situation where they have to travel into the local town to do that.

Second, with the way technology is changing, many of those businesses now are using the cloud to provide services, including accountancy or back-office services. One way to drive efficiency in many of those businesses is to have back-office services based in the cloud. They can only do that if they have access to decent high-speed broadband. It is hugely frustrating to see what is going on at present. That is why I am committed, along with the Government and, in fairness, every colleague in the House, to ensuring that we can deliver this infrastructure and deliver it as quickly as possible to every single premises, business, farm and home.

 

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