Poor broadband coverage in so many parts of Cavan/Monaghan is causing serious problems for many students. This causes particular difficulties for students preparing for examinations both at 2nd and 3rd level.
Each day I receive representations from families where there is utter frustration and concern about the impact poor broadband is having on students’ work. It is just not acceptable that we have anything but a level playing field in this country in relation to internet connectivity.
Over recent weeks I tabled Dáil Questions both to the Minister for Education and Skills and to the Minister for Communications, Climate Action and Environment requesting that measures be implemented both to assist students who do not have access to up to date technology and also students living in areas with inadequate broadband coverage.
This digital divide will be most harshly felt by less well off students and those in rural areas. There is no fairness in this.
Below are replies to my Dáil Questions –
To ask the Minister for Communications, Climate Action and Environment to outline the measures, if any, he will implement to assist Leaving Certificate 2020 students who do not have access to up-to-date technology and/or students living in areas with inadequate Broadband coverage and if he will make a statement on the matter.
Brendan Smith TD
The provision of telecommunication services is a matter for the relevant service providers operating in a liberalised market regulated by the Commission for Communication Regulation (ComReg), as independent Regulator.
I recognise how vital telecommunications services are to citizens for so many aspects of their daily lives, including for students at all stages of education, and particularly those approaching State examinations. Officials from my Department have been engaging intensively with ComReg and with the telecommunications industry in this regard.
As you may be aware, I recently signed regulations enabling ComReg to release additional rights of use for radio spectrum on a temporary basis. This will provide flexibility for mobile network operators to create additional capacity for mobile phone and broadband services and accommodate the increased demand at this time.
In addition, I can confirm that all major telecommunication operators have made commitments to measures which will assist people to stay in touch and work from home during Covid-19, including:
- Any fixed broadband customers who do not have unlimited usage already as standard will be given the opportunity, if they require, to upgrade their package (which may be on a temporary basis), with their current service provider
- Any customer who does not have fixed broadband and who relies solely on mobile access to the Internet will have the opportunity to avail of affordable unlimited mobile data access/package from their service provider
- Fair usage policies will not be automatically applied to unlimited fixed and mobile data packages
- Service providers may implement appropriate permitted traffic management measures to avoid network congestion
- Access to healthcare and educational resource websites identified by the Government will be zero-rated for all customers where technically feasible.
- So that customers can remain connected during the crisis, service providers will engage with any customer that contacts them who is in financial difficulty as a result of Covid-19 and has difficulty paying their bills to agree the best way of keeping them connected to voice and data.
- Service Providers will work with ComReg in the event of complaints raised to ComReg by consumers, who consider they are not being treated in accordance with these commitments.
These commitments will be implemented by operators as soon as possible. Each service provider will provide details and implementation updates on their own website. The commitments will remain available to consumers until 30 June 2020 and will be reviewed in advance of that date, if needed.
|123||To ask the Minister for Education and Skills if assistance can be provided for Leaving Certificate 2020 students who do not have access to up-to-date technology and/or students living in areas with inadequate Broadband coverage and if he will make a statement on the matter.||Brendan Smith|
Schools have been asked to be conscious of students who may not have access to online facilities and to consider this actively in their responses. School buildings have been available to staff who wished to access the facilities in order to provide online delivery, or essential services, as long as this was in line with public health advice.
Officials in my Department have liaised with colleagues in the DCCAE to raise the issue of barriers to connectivity impacting access to remote learning. Minister Bruton has announced a package of additional supports from the telecoms companies including that access to healthcare and educational resource websites identified by the Government will be zero-rated for all customers where technically feasible.
The Department is supporting a pilot initiative, under which Cisco and IBM are providing support directly to schools to operate the WebEx platform. This facilitates schools, with no alternative capability, with a collaborative platform to enable them engage with their students and staff.
My Department is also engaging with IBEC on the potential for companies to donate devices and other supports to be targeted at disadvantage students who otherwise would not have a device.
The Department will continue to work with the education partners to provide solutions in areas where digital and remote learning options may not be possible, and work is underway to provide guidance to schools about how best to use digital and other solutions to provide ongoing learning for students at this time.