Minister Naughten took part in a live Facebook Q&A on broadband last night

The Minister faced questions from all over the country.

Maeve McLaughlin
by Maeve McLaughlin on 14th September, 2016

Last night, in what was a first for a Government Minister, the Minister for Communications, Climate Action and Environment, Denis Naughten TD, took part in a live Facebook Q&A, broadcast from Facebook’s HQ.

At the end of the broadcast, over 1,000 people had tuned in and, according to Minister Naughten’s Facebook page, 2,600 people have watched the video at the time of writing this post.

The National Broadband Plan introduction

The Minister was joined during the Q&A by: Katherine Licken - Assistant Secretary in the Department of Communications, Climate Action and Environment; Fergal Mulligan - Program Director for the National Broadband Plan; and Patrick Neary - Chief Technology Officer in the Department.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, the Minister opened the broadcast by stating the team’s commitment to delivering high-speed broadband to every premises in the country and stressing the transformation this will bring to rural Ireland - the rollout of the National Broadband Plan (NBP) has been compared to the rural electrification project.

The team then talked through the high-speed broadband map that they have developed, which shows Ireland with different areas highlighted in either blue or amber.

The blue represents areas that the commercial operators will cover, while amber represents areas that will be targeted by the NBP. The map is fully searchable by address or Eircode, and the team asked people to review the map, check for their premises, and contact the Department if their premises is in a blue area but they are still having difficulty with their broadband.

They also highlighted the fact that the approach to bringing broadband to everyone in the country is two-pronged - on one hand the Department will be supporting the commercial operators in as much as possible to roll out their products across the country, and on the other hand they’ll be agreeing contracts for the NBP’s rollout in those amber areas.

The bidding is underway for that now, with Eir, Enet and Siro in the running for that 25-year contract.

The questions

After the intro, the Q&A session kicked off, with the following questions coming up:

Why is the broadband so slow in my area?

As you would expect, the most common question was from people living in areas with poor broadband.

Minister Naughten acknowledged that, while most people across the country should have access to some form of broadband, the issue is around differences in speed and performance.

People asking these questions were advised again to check the map and see whether their premises was covered by a commercial operator or would come as part of the NBP rollout.

Why is the NBP taking so long?

Again, this was a common question.

The team pointed to the complexities and size of the program, and said that, throughout the procurement process, they were taking steps to ensure that not only would the NBP mean the country would be catching up in terms of broadband, but rather it would be leaping ahead. They also mentioned that part of the procurement process would be to identify the bidders that can carry out the rollout in the fastest

They stressed that, once the contract (or contracts) is in place, the rollout will begin to happen very quickly across all areas. Minister Naughten noted that no one area was ‘at the top of the list’ in this regard.

Will it cost more to avail of broadband in rural areas?

The answer to this one was a resounding ‘no’. Basically, the wholesale price of the network will be the same for the whole country, so consumers in rural areas shouldn’t see higher prices.

Other items of note

One commenter pointed out that using a live video chat to discuss the issues with broadband across the country was ‘ironic’.

The Minister and his team stressed the work they have done to ensure people all across the country are aware of the plans - both via local and national media - and noted that they did give people ample notice of the chat to ensure they could be in a position to watch it if they wished.

Another topic of interest was that the Minister mentioned there had been some consultation with the European Commission on introducing a Universal Service Obligation for broadband, similar to what’s already in place in terms of phone lines. If this was introduced, ComReg would then have the power to enforce it.

The team also referenced the important role that Wireless Broadband providers have played so far - saying that without them, many places wouldn’t have had broadband service.

They said that the intervention by the Department in the NBP was in relation to the wholesale network and noted they fully expect wireless providers to innovate, use this network, and continue to provide a service.

So how did it go?

Throughout the broadcast, there were a number of comments from people around lack of service in their area and noting the really slow broadband speeds they are typically getting.

Aside from that, commenters appeared to be genuinely interested in the Q&A, with many noting that it was a worthwhile exercise.

It’s clear that the NBP is an issue of national interest, and the Department is working to ensure people across the country are aware of the rollout plans.

The plan is really ambitious, and will make a huge difference to people all over Ireland, so here’s hoping the end result delivers on what’s been promised.