Posted on January 23, 2014 11:44 AM   |   Permanent Link   

Speaking on the ESB (Electronic Communications Networks) Bill 2013

The Bill provides an explicit legal basis to enable the ESB to engage in the business of installing and operating an electronic communications network at some point in the future and also in providing electronic communications services, either alone or in conjunction with another company.

Appropriate provisions are also included in respect of the ESB's existing powers in the context of its operation in what is a fully liberalised telecommunications market. This is important for the State as it is a competitor in this market.

The costs associated with the Bill amount to administrative costs related to pursuing legislative proposals generally. No additional or recurring costs to the Exchequer have been identified, as this legislation is merely providing for something to occur at a future point in time.

I wish to spend a short time considering the detail of the legislation. It is a straightforward Bill, as it merely points the way forward, and is not actually setting up an electronic communications network at this point in time.

The legislation gives the ESB an explicit legal basis to engage in the business of electronic communications networks and electronic communications services either alone or in conjunction with any other company.
The legislation also enables the ESB to provide any company with access to its electricity infrastructure for the purpose of developing electronic communications networks and services of any nature to facilitate such development. I think this part of the legislation is important. Care must be taken to ensure that ESB infrastructure is kept in State ownership and that sustainable financial gain for the ESB must be made in return for use of its assets or services.

Due to the nature of the electricity network, elements of ESB infrastructure is laid out across private land. As we are seeing in recent political life, this sort of issue is an extremely sensitive matter and care must be taken to ensure that local communities are not only informed as to what is going on, but are genuinely consenting to it as well.

In recognition of this, the existing Electricity (Supply) Acts provide statutory wayleave rights to the ESB which allows it to cross private lands subject to the payment of compensation where appropriate. Given that the ESB proposes to utilise its existing electricity distribution network for telecommunications purposes, such wayleave rights across private lands will be necessary where the ESB provides access to its infrastructure under section 2 of the Bill and so it is for that reason that the legislation extends the ESB's wayleave powers across private land in instances where access to infrastructure is granted by the ESB to another company under the legislation. This section has been modelled on section 49 of the Electricity Regulation Act 1999 whereby such powers are subject to the consent of the Commission for Energy Regulation.

I think this Bill is a positive development. As legislators, we are often accused of having too much conern for the short term, and not enough concern for the long term, and I think there is some truth in this myself. This Bill is a welcome demonstration of making legislative provision for future developments. It opens the way forward for the State to become involved in what is a profoundly important area of commercial activity as technology develops and society becomes even more connected than it already is.