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, following the conclusion of a technology neutral competitive tendering process.
The Scheme was a policy response to persistent representations regarding the poor availability of broadband at that time in large parts of the country, particularly in 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, and 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 of having a basic broadband service available to all areas by 2013.
Why is the National Broadband Scheme ending?
The Department entered into a contract with Three in December 2008 for the provision of a basic affordable broadband service with minimum guaranteed speeds under the National Broadband Scheme. 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 how they are affected by the expiry of the NBS Scheme.
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 and 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 letter will advise them of the changes to their service, the tariffs available from Three and the option to cancel without penalty should they so choose.
Will broadband still be available?
With developments in the broadband market over recent years, there is now a choice of commercial operators offering broadband services over a diverse range of technology platforms throughout NBS areas.
Three have also confirmed to the Department, that following the expiry of the Scheme, they will continue to provide coverage throughout the NBS areas on a commercial basis. Furthermore, Three have informed the Department of their plans to extend 4G coverage to the NBS area within 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 and 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. Should a customer elect to continue to receive broadband from Three, Three will be dealing with them in a commercial capacity and these guarantees will no longer apply. Details of the terms and conditions of Three's commercial broadband plans will be included in the letter from Three 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 with Three without penalty 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, their satellite service will be supplied directly by Digiweb. Digiweb have provided the NBS satellite service on behalf of Three since 2012 and will maintain the NBS terms and conditions for a minimum period of two months.
NBS satellite customers will be given the option to cancel, without penalty, should they so choose 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 should they so choose. This is 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 being served by Three or Digiweb 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, on 1890 229 668; online at http://www.askcomreg.ie/ or by email at Consumerline@comreg.ie, for further assistance and guidance.
Any customer who is still within their NBS minimum contract term and is experiencing problems with their service should first contact Three, 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.
If the problem is not resolved, the customer can contact the Department, by email at email@example.com, with any comments or complaints they may have about their NBS service. The Department will then liaise with Three personnel at its Head Office in Dublin to ensure that any service performance issues, which are brought to its attention, are addressed as quickly as possible.
What is the Government doing to improve access to high speed broadband in rural areas?
The focus now is on ensuring that rural Ireland enjoys similar opportunities to urban areas in terms of access to high speed connectivity. In this regard, the next phase of Ireland's broadband evolution 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, including the upgrade from 3G to 4G services and various fibre-based networks.
It remains the case that 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 next phase of Ireland's broadband evolution will be focused on the delivery of the State-led intervention under the National Broadband Plan. This intervention will involve the delivery of long term, future proofed infrastructure build with 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 comprehensive mapping exercise is underway in the Department, to identify those areas that require a State intervention. A county-by-county list of towns and villages which have already been identified for intervention is available on the Department's website, at http://www.dccae.gov.ie/. This is an indicative list and is subject to the completion of the mapping exercise. It is expected that this mapping exercise will be concluded in Autumn 2014.
In tandem with the completion of the mapping exercise, intensive design and planning work is ongoing in the Department with a view to producing a detailed implementation strategy for the State led intervention. A full public consultation will be conducted on the outcome of the mapping process and the proposed intervention strategy.
EU State aid clearance will be required for the intervention once the strategy is finalised. This will be followed by a detailed procurement process with a view to commencing the roll out of high speed broadband services as quickly as possible.
A link to NBP FAQs can be found here: National Broadband Plan - FAQs