Header Item National Broadband Plan Implementation (Continued)
 Header Item Television Licence Fee Payments

Thursday, 12 March 2015

Dáil Éireann Debate
Vol. 871 No. 3

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(Speaker Continuing)

[Deputy Bernard J. Durkan: Information on Bernard Durkan Zoom on Bernard Durkan] Despite our best efforts to date, the provision of the broadband service we lack has not manifested itself yet. Could the Minister of State outline any initiatives that could be taken, apart from the national broadband plan, to co-ordinate efforts and to mark it in terms of achieving particular objectives along the way in order to make this a reality as quickly as possible?

Deputy Joe McHugh: Information on Joe McHugh Zoom on Joe McHugh That is a fair question. We have outlined the time period. We will seek to move the procurement process forward towards the end of this year. In 2016, we will start to roll out broadband in the areas that are not commercially viable for private companies. People do not want to hear about a three to five year period for the provision of broadband. Deputies live in the real world and when companies approach them with an idea for locating in a rural area, when they tell them there will be no broadband for some time that is not what they want to hear.

Deputy Durkan's question is critical. It is important that we continue to seek creative solutions in the interim in terms of what we can do with private companies. Private companies can work with each other. For example, Vodafone and the ESB worked together on projects in the 50 largest towns. There will be a further roll-out in that regard in the second phase and third phase. A lot will happen at that level. As Minister of State with responsibility for the Gaeltacht, I am pushing very strongly the agenda that we would provide broadband in Gaeltacht areas where we are trying to attract investment. There is a sense of urgency in that regard. I appreciate the Deputy's position. He is correct that he has heard it said previously that we will get it right. He heard that years ago. However, it is about getting it right, and it is also not just about providing a solution of 30 Mbps because children in the Visitors Gallery will be going to secondary school in a few years and their expectation will be akin to that of Paddy McGilligan in the 1920s, namely, that they will just press a button on the wall and they will have access to broadband-----

An Leas-Cheann Comhairle: Information on Michael Kitt Zoom on Michael Kitt I thank the Minister of State.

Deputy Joe McHugh: Information on Joe McHugh Zoom on Joe McHugh -----in the same way that we take the electricity supply for granted.

Deputy Bernard J. Durkan: Information on Bernard Durkan Zoom on Bernard Durkan I am ever hopeful for the people in the Visitors Gallery. I sincerely hope they are not applicants for the old age pension before it all becomes a reality. That is not a reflection on the Minister of State, but I want to emphasise that it would be very beneficial if the Minister of State and his colleague were to inquire of the service providers - the stakeholders - as to how quickly they can deliver in particular areas throughout the country. We are inundated with requests on a daily basis for services that are required now.

An Leas-Cheann Comhairle: Information on Michael Kitt Zoom on Michael Kitt Deputy Stanton wishes to ask a brief question. We are nearly out of time.

Deputy David Stanton: Information on David Stanton Zoom on David Stanton The Minister of State referred to the short term. Knockraha in my area is very close to Cork city. Eircom has said it is not commercially viable to provide broadband. Is there anything the Government can do in the short term to make it commercially viable for Eircom or another company to provide broadband as soon as possible?

Deputy Joe McHugh: Information on Joe McHugh Zoom on Joe McHugh We could do a number of things. I accept you have requested brevity, a Leas-Cheann Comhairle. I will respond to Deputy Durkan on the demands for the here and now. We must continue to engage with the private companies because they are looking at alternative solutions. If I hear from people within industry that there is a deficit in the number of apprentices, then the Government can help. One element we can deliver is to train up more people and give them the skills and expertise in order that they can be available to those companies.

In response to Deputy Stanton, Members across the House all hear the same thing every day from people with business ideas who want to go to a certain area where there is no broadband. The situation is reflected in the critical mass of oral parliamentary questions today which predominantly relate to broadband. That is the issue. Deputies have their ears to the ground. We must respond to the demands of the electorate in our constituencies and ensure people are not discriminated against in terms of service provision. That is why it is critical that the State-led intervention is done correctly. We do not want to be faced with a situation whereby once the procurement phase commences, things are not done right and we are back to square one. We are ploughing ahead. I am happy with the efforts, number of meetings and the work that has gone into it at an official level.

Television Licence Fee Payments

 13. Deputy Michael Moynihan Information on Michael Moynihan Zoom on Michael Moynihan asked the Minister for Communications, Energy and Natural Resources Information on Alex White Zoom on Alex White if he is satisfied that moneys collected via the RTE licence fee are being spent in the most efficient way; if a value for money analysis been carried out; if there are any planned stakeholder meetings; and if he will make a statement on the matter.  [10507/15]

Deputy Michael Moynihan: Information on Michael Moynihan Zoom on Michael Moynihan I will be very brief as I know we are nearly out of time. Is the Minister of State satisfied that all moneys collected via the licence fee is being spent in the most effective and efficient way because significant concern exists, which we hear on a daily basis, about the money that is being spent on RTE? It is a major issue. Are any stakeholder meetings planned on the spend and other serious issues relating to the State broadcaster, RTE, but in particular the licence fee?

Deputy Joe McHugh: Information on Joe McHugh Zoom on Joe McHugh First, it should be noted that RTE is not the sole recipient of licence fee revenue. Licence fee revenues are distributed in accordance with section 123 of the Broadcasting Act 2009 in the following prescribed manner. From the gross TV licence fee receipts, the Department first deducts commission payable to An Post in respect of its role as the Minister's issuing agent for TV licences. TG4 also currently receives €9.245 million from the gross receipts. Following these deductions, 7% of the net revenue is paid to the broadcasting funding scheme. The scheme, which is operated by the Broadcasting Authority of Ireland, BAI, was established to provide funding in support of the production of high quality programmes by independent producers and broadcasters on Irish culture, heritage and experience, and programmes to improve adult literacy. The scheme also supports certain archiving projects being undertaken by broadcasters. Any revenues remaining following these payments are provided to RTE. The purpose of the TV licence revenues paid to RTE and TG4 is to facilitate the pursuit of each broadcaster's public service objectives, which are set out in the 2009 Act.

  Statutorily mandated annual and five yearly reviews are conducted by the BAI which must consider whether each broadcaster has fulfilled the commitments set out in its annual statement and make a recommendation as to whether there should be an adjustment to the level of public funding. The first five-year review was undertaken in 2013 and this work included a wide-ranging process of stakeholder engagement with market players and other interested parties, involving both face-to-face interviews and written submissions.

  The results of that review, and the Government response to it, acknowledge the very significant programme of cost savings implemented by RTE since 2008, whereby it has reduced its operating costs by 30% and reduced its staff by more than 500 people. Members will be aware that a service which was provided in the UK has been taken off the air. It is also worth noting that these efficiencies were achieved in a period where RTE's annual revenues fell by 26% and where, despite the impact of this period of restructuring on the broadcaster, RTE continued to deliver its full range of services and achieved a break-even position in 2013.

  Additional information not given on the floor of the House

  As the Deputy will be aware, the Government response to the five-year review tasked NewERA with conducting an independent assessment of the scope for further efficiencies within RTE, including an examination of achievable efficiencies in its performing groups service model and the manner in which it delivers Irish language radio services. As part of this review, NewERA has also reviewed the scope for optimising the use of independent productions as part of RTE’s programme output. The Minister is currently considering the findings of the NewERA report prior to bringing it to Government and intends publishing it shortly thereafter.

Deputy David Stanton: Information on David Stanton Zoom on David Stanton I wish to make a point of order, if I may.

An Leas-Cheann Comhairle: Information on Michael Kitt Zoom on Michael Kitt Yes.

Deputy David Stanton: Information on David Stanton Zoom on David Stanton This morning, Priority Questions lasted 45 minutes. Am I correct in saying that Standing Orders specify that they should stop after 30 minutes? If that happens, it means that the rest of us have a lesser opportunity to contribute on Question Time. In future, could I ask that Priority Questions would finish when they are supposed to finish, namely, after 30 minutes in order that the rest of us should have an opportunity to ask our questions?

An Leas-Cheann Comhairle: Information on Michael Kitt Zoom on Michael Kitt I will take up the matter with the Ceann Comhairle. I agree that we went over the allocated time by ten minutes. We will move on to the next business.

  Written Answers follow Adjournment.


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