Dublin, 23 November 2016
Check against delivery
Good afternoon Chairman, ladies and gentlemen.
Thank you for the invitation to address you. I have engaged with many of you bilaterally, but this is my first TIF annual lunch. I am glad to be here with you as a group to reflect on the progress made in recent months on telecommunications matters and to look ahead.
Importance of Telecommunications to the Digital Economy in Ireland
The commercial telecommunications sector continues to make a strong contribution to enabling the digital economy and to improving the day to day lives of all of us.
Currently worth over €12 billion annually and employing around 120,000 people, the digital sector overall is growing fast and predicted to be worth at least €21 billion by 2020, according to the Indecon study commissioned by my Department. As the digital economy grows, we must ensure that the business opportunities and benefits are felt in every city, provincial town and rural area.
National Broadband Plan
Governments and government departments change priority over time. My Department exists to address the connected challenges of a country, and provincial parts of the country especially, that are significantly behind where they need to be, in terms of modern communications infrastructure.
Across the country, from inner cities to remote rural parishes, there are communities that are partly or sometimes wholly excluded from basic criteria of modern convenience and comfort, in terms of communications, energy efficiency and fuel poverty.
This comes at an economic cost, a social cost and an economic opportunity-cost.
A key social, economic and political priority for me is Broadband and the National Broadband Plan in particular. This Plan will play an integral role revitalizing businesses and communities across provincial towns in rural Ireland.
The procurement for the NBP State Intervention began in December 2015 and is ongoing.
The three bidders in the procurement process have indicated that they are proposing a predominantly fibre-to-the-home solution for rural Ireland under the State Intervention. This is a solution that will endure for 25 years and beyond.
As you are all aware, the NBP combines commercial investment, with a commercial stimulus for those areas where commercial investment may not materialise. The Plan commits to providing affordable high speed services to every home and business in the country. For this reason, and in parallel to the procurement process my Department is continually reviewing the rollout of services by operators in the areas where you, as an industry previously committed to providing services. We must ensure that no premises are left behind.
Mobile and Broadband Taskforce Producing Interim Measures to enhance Mobile and Broadband Coverage and Access
I recognise the level of frustration experienced across Ireland, where mobile networks are not delivering the services people expect. The 500% increase in the rate of demand for data services in the last four years is a continuing challenge for mobile operators, regulators and policy makers both in Ireland and internationally.
To address this challenge, I included in the Programme for Government, a commitment to a Mobile Phone and Broadband Taskforce. I established the Taskforce in July with Minister Humphreys, aiming to unlock barriers to investment in mobile and broadband services. Since July, a lot of progress has been made with all the key stakeholders.
I want to thank TIF and individual operators as well as ComReg for their significant input and contribution in that process.
With bottlenecks now identified I and Minister Humphreys will report to Government next month, with timelines for delivery of a number of initiatives and actions emerging in the areas of planning, network access improvement, local authority engagement, and consumer information and awareness-raising.
Regulatory Actions Central to Good Progress
ComReg has made a significant contribution to ensuring a well regulated sector. The Regulator continues to work proactively to achieve the right balance between facilitating competition, protecting consumers and encouraging innovation. My Department will continue to liaise with both ComReg and with the sector on important developments, especially in relation to spectrum matters, the Digital Single Market (DSM) and in particular, the reform of the regulatory framework.
Stakeholder Engagement on the Digital Single Market (DSM)
We need to be proactive on Ireland's position on EU telecommunications policy, particularly in light of Brexit. I am working at national and EU level to unlock the full potential of the EU Digital single market.
Key measures such as roaming and a new proposed regulatory Code have been published and 2017 will see further key proposals in the areas of ePrivacy and the Free Flow of Data, which also aim to provide a better space in which to do business.
We have sought views from industry, ComReg and other stakeholders and across Government on the key elements. I want to thank you for the views you have provided so far, particularly on roaming. Your input has been invaluable and we are determined to resolve the accompanying challenges with your help.
A healthy audiovisual sector is vital to the cultural and political life of this country and the European Union. We need a strong regulatory framework to ensure the growth and stability of this sector.
Since publication of the European Commission's proposal in late May, discussions have taken place at EU level, during which we have raised the practice of "opt-out" or targeted advertising and the negative impact it is having on the audiovisual sector in Ireland.
My Department has engaged consultants to review the impact of "opt-out" advertising on the Irish Broadcasting Sector and to detail the available potential policy responses to address this issue. This report will be finalised before the end of the year.
We are a country playing catch-up on our obligations in relation to Climate Change. This obligation is as much an opportunity as an obligation. Using less energy, and using it more efficiently, is the most cost effective and accessible way for us all to take action on climate change.
Smart and digital agriculture holds great potential for a more sustainable, productive, and competitive EU farm sector.
Smart grid technologies, energy efficiency, energy metering and storage, demand-side management, and electric vehicles will all benefit, resulting in more efficient and resilient energy systems.
Encouraging Trading Online
I welcome the willingness of telecoms and digital market players to continue collaborating with my Department on our existing measures, where the opportunity arises.
As a small, open economy, Ireland's small businesses need to compete in a global market place and my Department's Trading Online Voucher Scheme is one way for them to get ahead. Focussing strongly on skills training, combined with financial support, the Scheme is making an impact.
I want to ask you to spread awareness of the opportunity among your collective business customer base, and point them to my Department or their Local Enterprise Office for help to grow their business.
For both telecommunications and broadcasting, addressing growing connectivity needs and boosting competitiveness is imperative. Continued investment in very high-capacity networks, acceleration of public access to Wi-Fi, and harmonised release of spectrum are all crucial for our digital future. Achieving download speeds of at least 100 Mbps, which can be upgraded to 1 gigabit per second, and uninterrupted 5G coverage, will all require massive investment. Increased competition and further EU market integration will facilitate us reaching these goals, and making Europe a global leader for 5G.
Ireland will continue to input strongly at European level, building new alliances and addressing complex issues to suit our circumstances, including in the audio visual and broadcasting sectors. TIF will be critical to ensuring our voice is clearly heard and understood and we will continue to work closely with you to create a healthy investment climate.
Better internet connectivity must continue to be our combined objective,