Seán Canney TD, Minister of State with responsibility for Community Development, Natural Resources and Digital Development, today (Thursday 23rd May) welcomed the publication of the Mobile Phone and Broadband Taskforce’s first progress report of 2019.
The Taskforce is made up of senior officials from a number of Government Departments, Statutory Agencies and Local Government and engages with representatives of the telecommunications industry. Chaired by Minister Canney, the Taskforce was established to identify and address barriers to improved mobile phone and broadband services in areas with poor connectivity ahead of the roll out of the National Broadband Plan.
Minister Canney explained that the Taskforce has spent the last three years working on initiatives that will have a significant impact on the National Broadband Plan, “It is important that people understand that while work to build the network will start once the contract has been signed, it will not be from a standing start. Much has been done over the last three years by the Taskforce to prepare for the roll out of the Plan.”
Preparatory works include;
- the laying and proving of 1,000KM of cable ducting by Transport Infrastructure Ireland,
- reviews of legislation and regulations,
- work to improve consumer information and protection, and
- improved engagement between planning authorities and telecommunications operators.
“The work of Taskforce is very broad, but it has had profound effects,” said Minister Canney. “For instance, the appointment of Local Authority Broadband Officers was one of the first recommendations of the Taskforce. Broadband Officers are now in place and they are consistently identified by the public and telecoms operators as the single most important development in recent years.”
Broadband Officers have local, expert knowledge and are supported in their work by dedicated liaison officers at the Department of Rural and Community Development. The Department has also provided €42,000 to each Local Authority towards salary costs. Broadband Officers are also supported by the Department of Communications, Climate Action and Environment which recognises the centrality of the role to a successful National Broadband Plan roll-out.
Since the Taskforce’s establishment, it has addressed over 60 actions and continues to focus on issues that are impacting upon the rollout of telecommunications infrastructure in rural areas. Over 30 new actions are contained in the 2019 Work Programme for delivery this year. Recent developments include:
Mobile phone coverage
- ComReg has introduced a licencing scheme to allow the use of mobile phone repeaters. This is particularly useful for those living in rural areas, boosting outdoor mobile signals to improve the quality of phone coverage indoors.
- ComReg has also released an online map of outdoor mobile phone coverage. This allows people to find out which services (2G, 3G or 4G) are available in an area and which operators can provide them. When combined with ComReg’s price comparison tool and mobile handset testing, consumers are now supported to make better informed decisions.
- Wifi calling - Two of the three main mobile operators have introduced this technology, allowing people to make calls over their own domestic wifi rather than over the cellular network. A third operator is due to announce their own wifi calling service imminently.
- Access to State Assets - Led by the Department of Communications, Climate Action and Environment, work has begun to make appropriate access to State owned assets possible for telecoms operators to site their equipment. This could have a significant impact on mobile coverage, particularly in rural areas.
- The report of a focus group was published by the Department of Communications, Climate Change and Environment, providing guidance with respect to categories of location where high quality reliable mobile coverage should be made available as a priority.
- Transport Infrastructure Ireland has installed and proved 1,000KM of cable ducting across the State’s national roads network. This will house a significant part of the fibre-optic ‘spine’ that will bring broadband services to homes and businesses across the country.
- Broadband Officers are working with telecommunications companies and the Department of Rural and Community Development to agree standard telecommunications infrastructure that can be shared, such as ducting and underground chambers. This will lead to a marked reduction in road works when operators want to lay new cabling, meaning less disruption for local people and faster deployment of new services.
- Local Authorities have a new shared online licencing system for road works, making the process more efficient and smarter while retaining control of local works. Usage of the system has increased significantly in recent months.
- Public wifi. The Department of Rural and Community Development has liaised with the EU to assist Local Authorities in their applications for WiFi4EU vouchers. So far, more than €1M has been assigned to Irish Local Authorities to establish free wifi services in public parks, squares and libraries. The Department has also supported a number of initiatives across the country that use wifi services to benefit the public.
Speaking about his role as Chairperson of the Taskforce, Minister Canney said “I am in a unique position as I work across both the Department of Rural and Community Development and the Department of Communications, Climate Change and Environment. I’m also a resident of rural Ireland. This allows me an overarching view of both the high-level policy issues, but also the real-world impact of the Taskforce’s work.”
“I have seen at first-hand the difference that enthusiastic cooperation and collaboration can make to solving complex issues. More areas now have mobile phone coverage, more people have access to high-speed broadband and the Taskforce has helped to make that happen. We look forward to the roll-out of the National Broadband Plan and will continue preparing the way for this vital new infrastructure”
Note to editors
The Mobile Phone and Broadband Taskforce is a cross-Governmental initiative. The organisations represented in the Taskforce are:
- Department of Rural and Community Development
- Department of Communications, Climate Action and Environment
- Department of Transport, Tourism and Sport
- Department of Housing, Planning and Local Government
- Local Government Management Agency
- Transport Infrastructure Ireland
- County and City Management Association
- Commission for Communications Regulation (ComReg)
- Advertising Standards Authority for Ireland
- ESB Networks
- Office of Public Works
The work of the Taskforce is supported by ongoing engagement with Ibec on behalf of the Telecommunications Industry.
Quarterly and Annual Reports of the Taskforce can be found here