2017 – Contract Signing and Build Commencement
2017 is the year when contracts are to be awarded to one or two telecommunications companies, to rollout a high speed broadband network as part of the much awaited National Broadband Plan.
For those companies and citizens across regional and rural Ireland trying to operate with very basic broadband services, this is a really important milestone. Not only will it signal the start of an actual physical build out of the network, it will also provide some reassurance that Government policy is actually starting to deliver.
It had been expected that contracts would be signed in June 2017, though late last year the bidders (there are three), indicated they may need more time to prepare their bids. See Dáil Q&A.
Notwithstanding the scale of the project and process, the bidders have had years to prepare for this bid and it is imperative that contracts are awarded and the build commences. Rural businesses have had to endure poor services for too long and in a global marketplace where online connectivity is a basic pre-requisite, rural businesses have to work harder than their urban counterparts to stay in business. Recent research highlights the significance of broadband infrastructure compared to other infrastructure in supporting local enterprises and their development.
Report of the Mobile Phone and Broadband Taskforce
In the meantime, just before Christmas 2016, the Report of the Mobile Phone and Broadband Taskforce was published. This report seeks to address the gaps in the current delivery of telecoms infrastructure and is focused more on addressing improvements in the short term, in addition and separate to the National Broadband Plan which is over a longer time frame.
This is a very welcome initiative, not least because there is a lot of dissatisfaction with mobile phone coverage, especially in rural areas. Also, anything that can ‘fill gaps’ in existing broadband provision should be progressed, as even when contracts for the NBP are signed, some will be waiting years for the planned new broadband infrastructure.
There are 40 actions aimed at assisting the rollout of mobile services and high speed broadband, to homes and businesses. These include measures to streamline planning procedures for telecoms infrastructure, actions to build out new ducting along the M7/M8, and measures to help consumers directly.
Key actions include:
- The Department of Communications, Climate Action & Environment will work with telecoms operators and ComReg (Commission for Communication Regulation) to identify mobile blackspots and come up with measures to address these blackspots.
- All local authorities are to assign a Broadband officer who will act as a single point of contact for engagement with telecommunications operators building out infrastructure.
- ComReg will develop and publish a new network coverage map, and develop a testing regime to measure the performance of mobile phone handsets which will help people to make informed choices on products and services they purchase.
- There will be a new licensing regime to allow people to install high quality signal repeaters on their buildings – homes and businesses, which will boost their connectivity.
- Work on building 95km of duct along the M7 / M8 Motorway, which will complete the ducting on the Cork-Dublin route is being undertaken by Transport infrastructure Ireland.
- From Q1, 2017, all Local Authorities will apply waivers in respect of development contributions for telecoms infrastructure developments.
- Other key actions include the review and updating of the relevant statutory planning guidelines to ensure consistency by local authorities, and the introduction of an online system to streamline the planning application process.
- ComReg expects to allocate spectrum in the 3.6GHz band in 2017. This will release an additional 86% of spectrum capacity, allowing fixed wireless and mobile operators to deliver services.
- It is expected that by 2020 the 700MHz spectrum band is to be made available for use by the telecoms sector which will be particularly important in rural areas.
Finally, there is to be an Implementation Group established which is to drive and monitor the implementation of these actions.
For rural users, in the Western Region and across the country, lets hope 2017 will see delivery of these actions, that NBP contracts are awarded and the building of the National Broadband Plan Network commences.