Dáil Éireann - Volume 656 - 05 June, 2008

Written Answers. - Telecommunications Services.

Deputy Brian Hayes asked the Minister for Education and Science if the IBEC-sponsored programme which resulted in funding of over €5 million a year since 2005 for the provision of broadband in schools will not be continued under the schools broadband access programme; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [22384/08]

  Deputy Batt O’Keeffe: The Schools Broadband Access Programme is being undertaken in partnership with industry in the context of a Government — IBEC/TIF (Telecommunications and Internet Federation) Agreement to provide local broadband connectivity to schools. This voluntary Agreement provides for the establishment of a three year €18m joint Government-IBEC/TIF Fund, with industry contributing €5m per annum and the Government contributing €1m per annum. To date the receipts to the Fund comprise the State’s contributions of €3m and €8.03m from IBEC/TIF contributing members.

The Programme has three elements — local connectivity to schools, a national broadband network and a broadband support service desk. Schools connectivity is being routed to the Internet through a national broadband network, which is supported by HEAnet and provides centrally managed services for schools such as security, anti-spam/ anti-virus and content filtering. The broadband support service desk has been established to interface between the network, the local broadband service Access Providers and schools. It is managed by the National Centre for Technology in Education (NCTE). The total costs of the Programme for the first three years, including the initial set-up costs, are some €30m.

[594] The funding Agreement with TIF, which provides for the €18m Fund, is to meet the local connectivity element of the Programme costs.

The Agreement with TIF provides for the appointment of a Programme Evaluator to independently evaluate progress on the deployment of broadband access to schools and the impact of such deployment in schools over the period of the Schools Broadband Access Programme. The Terms of Reference for the Programme Evaluator were agreed with TIF in February 2008 and following a public procurement process, Norcontel (Ireland) Ltd has been selected to undertake the evaluation. The final evaluation report is expected to be completed by August, 2008.

My Department will shortly issue a Request for Tenders for the next round of service. The priority for the new procurement process will be to ensure that the broadband services to schools keep in line with national infrastructure improvements. The RFT will seek tenders which at least maintain the existing service (in terms of speed and reliability) that schools currently receive.

Having regard to the general developments in broadband availability nationally, improved service offerings are expected to be received under the new tender process.

I would like to acknowledge the co-operation and contribution of the TIF to the initiative to date and I look forward to developing the partnership into the future.