What was the National Broadband Scheme?
The Department entered into a contract with Hutchison 3G Ireland Ltd. ("Three") for the delivery of the National Broadband Scheme (NBS) on 23 December 2008. This followed the conclusion of a technology neutral competitive tendering process.
The Scheme was a policy response to the poor availability of broadband at that time in large parts of the country This issue particularly affected rural areas.
The Scheme ensured the availability of a basic affordable broadband service to some 238,000 premises located in 1,028 Electoral Divisions across 25 Counties. Three constructed 390 new sites under the Scheme. They also upgraded a number of its existing sites to provide mobile broadband coverage in NBS areas.
The NBS has directly benefitted the subscribers to the Scheme as well as users of smartphones and other mobile devices.
Combined with private investment, the NBS allowed Ireland to meet the EU Commission's "Digital Agenda for Europe" target. To fulfil the taget, a basic broadband service had to be available to all areas by 2013.
Why is the National Broadband Scheme ending?
Under EU rules, the intervention in the market was for a limited duration and the Scheme expires on 25th August 2014.
How much did the NBS cost the Exchequer?
The Exchequer contribution to the NBS was capped at €79.8m, and this was co-financed by the European Union under the European Regional Development Fund.
I am an NBS customer – how am I affected?
Each NBS customer will receive a letter from Three detailing the expiry of the NBS Scheme affects them.
Upon joining the NBS, every customer entered a minimum contract period. If that period has passed by August 25th 2014, Three will advise the customer a minimum of 30 days before their next billing date of:
the changes to their service,
the tariffs now available and
the option to cancel without penalty should a customer so choose
This option to cancel is in line with Regulation 14 of the European Communities (Electronic Communications Networks and Services) (Universal Service and Users' Rights) Regulations 2011.
If the minimum contract period extends beyond August 25th, the letter will advise the customer of the date of the expiry of their individual contract. Three must also confirm that the customer will continue to receive the guaranteed NBS service up to that date. These customers will receive an additional letter a minimum of 30 days before the expiry of their NBS contract. This will advise of the changes to service, tariffs available and the option to cancel without penalty.
Will broadband still be available?
With recent developments, there is now a choice of commercial operators offering broadband services throughout NBS areas.
Following the expiry of the Scheme, Three will continue to provide coverage throughout NBS areas on a commercial basis. Furthermore, Furthermore, Three have informed the Department of their plans to extend 4G coverage to the NBS area. This rollout will take place over the next 3 years. 4G services offer considerably enhanced speeds to that available over 3G networks. Please see Three's website for further details on this.
Will the price and data allowances stay the same?
Following the expiry of the NBS, Three will offer services in a commercial capacity. The Department will have no role in the services offered. If a customer chooses to stay with Three they will be offered the same choice of broadband plans as those offered currently in non-NBS areas. Details of the commercial broadband plans available will be included in the letter from Three to all NBS customers.
Are there any other changes to my service?
The NBS contract between the Department and Three had specific guarantees in relation to service levels, minimum speeds, contention levels, price and data allowance. Customers can elect to continue to receive broadband from Three. If they do so, it will be in a commercial capacity and these guarantees will no longer apply. Three will include details of the terms and conditions of commercial broadband plans in the letter to all NBS customers.
Do I have to stay with Three?
No. As there is a change to your terms and conditions, you are entitled to end your agreement without penalty. This is in line with Regulation 14 of the European Communities (Electronic Communications Networks and Services) (Universal Service and Users' Rights) Regulations 2011:
"An undertaking shall, not less than one month prior to the date of implementation of any modification to the contractual conditions proposed by the undertaking, notify its subscribers to that service of (a) the proposed modification in the conditions of the contract for that service, and (b) their right to withdraw without penalty from such contract if they do not accept the modification".
The letter issued by Three in relation to the expiry of the NBS will outline how customers can cancel their service without penalty should they so choose.
I am an NBS satellite customer - what happens to me?
The letter from Three to NBS satellite customers will advise that, following the expiry of the Scheme, Digiweb will directly supply their satellite service. Digiweb have provided the NBS satellite service on behalf of Three since 2012. They will maintain the NBS terms and conditions for a minimum period of two months.
NBS satellite customers will have the option to cancel without penalty, should they so choose. This also fals under Regulation 14 of the European Communities (Electronic Communications Networks and Services) (Universal Service and Users' Rights) Regulations 2011 (as set out above).
Similarly, should Digiweb elect to make any changes to the terms and conditions after two months they will have to give customers a minimum of 30 days' notice of any change in service including the option to cancel without penalty. This is also in line with Regulation 14 of the European Communities (Electronic Communications Networks and Services) (Universal Service and Users' rights) Regulations 2011.
What happens if I have a complaint about my service?
Any customer that Three or Digiweb serve in a commercial capacity should contact their service provider to resolve any issues that they experience. If, after having exhausted the service provider's complaint handling procedures, a customer is not happy they may contact the Commission for Communications Regulation, ComReg for further assistance and guidance:
Comreg contact details
Any customer who is still within their NBS minimum contract term and is experiencing problems with their service should first contact Three. They can be contacted by phone at 1913 (free of charge), via email to firstname.lastname@example.org or by post to 3 Customer Services, Hutchison 3G Ireland Ltd, PO Box 333, Dublin 2, Ireland.
What is the Government doing to improve access to high speed broadband in rural areas?
The focus is now on ensuring that rural Ireland enjoys similar opportunities to urban areas in terms of access to high speed connectivity. In this regard, the Department is focused on the delivery of the State-led intervention under the National Broadband Plan. In parallel, the commercial sector is investing approximately €2.5bn in upgrading broadband services. These include the upgrade from 3G to 4G services, and various fibre-based networks.
However, there is no commercial case for investment in high speed networks and services in some parts of Ireland. The Government intends to intervene in these areas.
On 25 April 2014, the Minister signalled the Government's commitment to a major telecommunications network build-out to rural Ireland. The State-led intervention, under the National Broadband Plan. This intervention will involve the delivery of a long term, future proofed infrastructure build. The network will have next generation backhaul infrastructure (likely to primarily be fibre based) as the key component underpinning whatever access technology delivers the service (fixed or wireless).
Under EU State Aid Guidelines Member States cannot intervene where commercial investors have plans to roll out services. A nationwide mapping exercise was carried out by the Department, to identify those areas that require a State intervention. This concluded with the development of the National Broadband Plan map. Individuals can check whether they are included in the Intervention area or else, provided for through commercial operators. The map and more information on the National Broadband Plan is available at http://www.dccae.gov.ie/en-ie/communications/topics/Broadband/national-broadband-plan/Pages/National-Broadband-Plan.aspx.