Minister of State Kyne re-affirms the Government commitment to achieving a ‘digitally connected’ Ireland at second National Mobile Phone and Broadband Taskforce Stakeholder Forum

Published 12 October 2018

The Mobile Phone and Broadband Taskforce held its second Stakeholder Forum today in Ballinasloe, County Galway. This year’s Forum was moderated by journalist and broadcaster Ms Jess Kelly.

Bringing together a diverse range of Stakeholders, including telecommunications companies, community representative groups, the Commission for Communications Regulation, local authorities, and relevant Government Departments, the Taskforce aims to eliminate barriers to telecommunications infrastructure and deployment, as well as tackling blackspots across Ireland, pending rollout of the National Broadband Plan State Intervention.

The Annual Forum affords all stakeholders the opportunity to actively contribute to shaping the work of the Taskforce and identify barriers to broadband and mobile phone coverage. This year’s event aimed to build on the success of last year’s inaugural Stakeholder Forum, reflecting on key steps already taken, and identifying any new areas for action.

Speaking at the Annual Forum Minister of State Seán Kyne commented: “The Mobile Phone and Broadband Taskforce has been working steadily and determinedly to improve mobile phone and broadband coverage for householders, businesses and communities across the country. In Government we are keen to build on the progress achieved and today’s forum is a great opportunity for stakeholders to provide valuable input and feedback to help us plan the next steps for the Taskforce.”

Mr John Kennedy (Editor, Silicon Republic), was this year’s key note speaker, while the main panel of speakers included Mr Robert Finnegan (Chief Executive Officer, Three Ireland), Mr Brian Donnellan (Vice-President and Dean of International Affairs, National University of Ireland, Maynooth – a leading expert in management information systems and smart cities), Ms Carolan Lennon (Chief Executive Officer, eir), Mr Anthony Whelan (Director, Electronic Communications Networks and Services, DG CONNECT) and Mr Conor Pope (Journalist and Broadcaster).

Panellists were challenged to identify the key future challenges facing Government and industry in rolling out new telecommunications infrastructure that will drive our digital society and economy.

Closing the event, Minister of State Kyne enumerated some of the notable achievements of the Taskforce in the twelve months since the inaugural Stakeholder Forum.  These include:

  • ComReg has published results of tests carried out on mobile/smart phone handsets currently available in Ireland. This will inform consumer decisions in choosing the handset best suited to their needs.
  • ComReg has also developed a licensing exemption scheme so households and businesses can now use indoor mobile phone repeaters to boost signals within their premises and bring immediate improvements in mobile coverage. I am encouraged to learn of this action already having tangible results, as a number of rural Government Offices have recently availed of repeater technology.
  • The focus group established to provide guidance on categories of location where the provision of high quality reliable mobile coverage should be prioritised, has now published its report and it is anticipated that the output of this focus group should influence the approach of mobile network operators in working to reduce mobile phone blackspots. The report will also inform future policy with regard to priorities for mobile-phone services. Other work is ongoing by the Taskforce to help identify the blackspot locations needing prioritisation.
  • A Working Group on State Assets has been established which will shortly be submitting to Government a Policy Paper in respect of leveraging State and publically owned assets suitable for the housing and deployment of telecommunications infrastructure.

While praising participants for the substantial progress made to date, Minister of State Kyne urged all stakeholders to ‘remain focussed, resume the work and rededicate’ themselves to the work of the Taskforce in order to complete the journey towards a ‘digitally connected society not for many, not even for most, but for all’.

END 

Note to editor:

Background

The Mobile Phone and Broadband Taskforce was established in July 2016 arising from the Programme for a Partnership Government commitment to identify solutions to broadband and mobile phone coverage deficits and to investigate how better services could be provided to consumers prior to full build and rollout of the network planned under the National Broadband Plan (NBP) State Intervention. The Taskforce published its final report in December 2016, which set out 40 actions aimed at alleviating the issues that it identified.

An Implementation Group was established in early 2017 to oversee the timely delivery of all the actions of the Taskforce’s report. This Group published its 2017 Implementation Review on 21 February 2018, which contains a review of progress made during 2017 and the 2018 Taskforce Work Programme. The Work Programme incorporates a small number of items carried over from 2017 as well as a range of new measures. The new actions are a direct result of discussions throughout the year with action holders and other key stakeholders, in addition to feedback received from attendees at the National Stakeholder Forum held in October 2017. There are a total of 34 actions for delivery in 2018, which are compiled in a table of action at the end of this brochure.

Annual Forum

Action 1 of the Taskforce Report committed to holding “an annual forum for all stakeholders to discuss issues impacting on the rollout of telecoms infrastructure”. The Department of Rural and Community Development (DRCD) and the Department of Communications, Climate Action and Environment (DCCAE) were jointly tasked with organising the event and the first Stakeholder Forum (the Forum) took place on 6 October 2017 in Athlone.

The positive effect of last year’s Forum has been invaluable, going above and beyond what was originally anticipated. In that regard, although only originally meant as a once-off event, the Forum is now part of a set of ongoing measures established to facilitate continuing dialogue between key stakeholders.

Key Taskforce achievements and ongoing initiatives

Technology Initiatives

  • A blackspots pilot project run by the Department of Communications, Climate Action & Environment (DCCAE) and Department of Rural and Community Development (DRCDE) with mobile operators and some local authorities is identifying problem areas and any infrastructure for potential use to improve mobile coverage.
  • ComReg has developed a licensing exemption scheme to allow for the use of mobile phone repeaters to help address the issue of indoor mobile coverage, particularly in rural areas.
  • Operators continue to implement WiFi calling and other network features and functionality enhancements to improve user experience.

Communications and Stakeholder engagement

  • Broadband Officers in each local authority are in continuous dialogue with telecommunications operators to remove obstacles to infrastructure rollout.
  • Telecommunications operators regularly present their rollout plans to local authorities at Regional Action Groups meetings which are attended by the Broadband Officers.
  • ComReg has published a forecast report on mobile data speeds and fixed broadband speeds, to enable consumers to make informed decisions on services best suiting their needs.

Planning and Infrastructure

  • Removal of development contributions for telecommunications infrastructure has enabled more efficient infrastructure roll-out.
  • Completion of revision of Exempted Development Regulations by the Department of Housing, Planning and Local Government will help accelerate the rollout of 4G services, and facilitate 5G rollout.
  • Installation by Transport Infrastructure Ireland (TII) of over 100km of ducting across the national road network has been completed (M7, M8 and part of the N25), with operators able to deploy infrastructure to expand their networks along the route. TII will also now require the installation of ducting on all new road schemes.  TII and industry are in active discussion to identify suitable sites on the motorway network for locating telecoms infrastructure.
  • TII has also reduced costs associated with accessing their ducts.
  • The Department of Transport, Tourism and Sport (DTTAS) Monitoring Committee is streamlining interaction between key stakeholders.
  • DTTAS also published revised Guidelines for Managing Openings in Public Roads (the Purple Book) in April 2017 and has rolled out training to local authorities and utilities.
  • Nearly all (30 of 31) local authorities have migrated to the MapRoad Roadworks Licensing System and work is ongoing to resolve operational aspects of the final local authority.

Informing Consumers

  • ComReg has conducted and published research into handset sensitivity to allow consumers to make informed choices on different handsets.
  • ComReg is developing a composite national coverage map to help consumers and businesses choose the network provider best suiting their needs.

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