Minister of State at the Department of Health (Deputy Helen McEntee): We will take two minutes each. I thank the Acting Chairman for the opportunity to speak on an important and timely debate, and I thank the Rural Independent group for proposing the motion.
Good quality high speed broadband is the lifeblood of modern living, whether it is business, education or leisure. Certainly, in the past five to ten years, the way in which we conduct our business, access public services, use mobile phones or even go about our daily lives has been totally transformed by the Internet. Understandably, the patience of many consumers, business owners and, indeed, politicians, has been wearing thin. We have had many plans, budgets and targets, but many people also have been left behind. There is a need for change. I am confident that the partnership Government is committed to that change.
As a Deputy for Meath East over the past three years, I have worked a great deal on this issue. I have worked with affected communities as well as the Oireachtas Joint Committee on Transport and Communications. In particular, I would mention Kentstown outside Navan in Meath, where Eir activated its exchange for higher speed broadband last year, with other companies coming behind it in providing the service. I thank the companies publicly for that because I have seen how a united approach among a community, public representatives and providers can yield positive results. Obviously, not every case has been that easy, and where commercial forces cannot or will not go, the State must go.
We have a duty to citizens, where there is a pattern of rural living, to intervene. This is why I welcome the renewed commitment by the Fine Gael and Independent partnership to the national broadband plan. As announced by the Minister, Deputy Denis Naughten, yesterday, the plan has a dedicated funding model, the commercial stimulus model, which is no longer in direct competition with other priorities such as health and education. That is what a 21st-century infrastructure model of investment demands – a dedicated and consistent funding stream. I note that some of the members of the Rural Alliance have already acknowledged that it is a good model.
Some speakers have raised issues with the minimum download and upload speeds. I believe that our first priority must be to lay down the national infrastructure; when we have the footprint and the mechanics of the national infrastructure laid down, it will be much easier to update and upgrade it. With no infrastructure in place, obviously, we need to start somewhere.
If customers have consistent issues with their broadband speeds, especially compared to those of their neighbours or what companies say they provide or are charging for, then we need clear protocols for them to raise their complaints and have them addressed. I would welcome the Minister’s views on this. Perhaps ComReg needs to expand its role in that regard.