Thursday, 23 January 2014

It is interesting to see that only Government Deputies are present and none of the Opposition Members. It demonstrates that this is a good news story. Whenever there is a bad news story, plenty of Opposition Members caw away on the other side of the House. Today happens to represent a very good news story. The strange point is that it would not have been if we had not sold off and privatised Eircom, particularly Eircom networks, a number of years ago. The sad part is that perhaps ten or 15 years ago we could have had broadband in all rural areas throughout the country. I welcome this initiative. This is an exciting time. We may bitch and complain about the ESB and ESB Networks but this is definitely a very positive and welcome story.

Only yesterday I received a communication from an individual who was having problems with broadband. I am from the constituency of Kildare North, which people will say is very urban. However, there are places within my constituency where people find it extremely difficult to get broadband. This initiative will certainly help to combat the problem.

The Government is encouraging people to get back to work. People like to work from home. As highlighted by Deputy Harrington in respect of west Cork, people in rural areas, including west Kildare and along the Kildare-Wicklow border, have very poor access to broadband communications. Commercial entities, including Eircom, mainly target areas of population where they can make a quick profit. That the ESB is coming on board is very much welcome for those in rural areas. It is in the business of providing a service rather than generating a profit. Being involved with a commercial partner, it may be driven by commercialisation. It is said the service will be rolled out in urban areas first, but it is most important that it be rolled out as much as possible in rural areas. This is one of the pillars of the Government’s broadband strategy.

It is important that ESB Networks and its partner engage with the agricultural community. The quicker they do so, the quicker we can get the broadband structure put in place. I urge the Minister to encourage in any way he can the management of ESB to engage with the IFA and various farming bodies so we can put the structure in place as quickly as possible.

It is important that the Bill be passed as quickly as possible. When it is passed, the timescale for the rolling out of broadband by the ESB will be important. It will be vital for industry that it be rolled out as quickly as possible. We should encourage the ESB along these lines.

I welcome this initiative. It is great that we are using existing infrastructure for another purpose. It is a pity previous Governments did not examine this idea. I support the Bill but I am disappointed that no members of the Opposition are present to listen to a good news story today.