‘Narrow’ approach taken on broadband report request

Commissioner for Environmental Information must reconsider request, court rules

Ms Justice Marie Baker found the commissioner  fell into error over its  refusal  to release a report on the options available to the Government to achieve generalised roll-out of high-speed broadband within the State. Photograph: Michaela Rehle/Reuters

Ms Justice Marie Baker found the commissioner fell into error over its refusal to release a report on the options available to the Government to achieve generalised roll-out of high-speed broadband within the State. Photograph: Michaela Rehle/Reuters

 

The Commissioner for Environmental Information must reconsider a man’s request for access to a Government report on the roll-out of next generation broadband, the High Court has ruled.

Stephen Minch had challenged the commissioner’s December 2014 refusal to release a report on the options available to the Government to achieve generalised roll-out of high-speed broadband within the State.

The report was prepared for the Department of Communications by consultants, Analysys Mason, and was described as an economic analysis of the options available.

It considered two options to achieve the objectives of the National Broadband Plan – whether broadband would be made available by wireless or wired mode.

The department refused to release the consultants’ report to Mr Minch on the ground it was not environmental information. He appealed that decision to the Environmental Information Commissioner, who rejected his request for the same reason.

In his High Court challenge, he claimed the report did fall within EU access to information on the environment regulations (Directive 2003/4/EC3). He argued the national plan for broadband, a report freely available,  was a measure within the meaning of those regulations primarily because radio wave emissions were emissions into the environment.

He also argued any technology that might be used for the broadband roll-out would have attendant power requirements and the choice of technologies would have consequences for emissions.

The commissioner,  in rejecting his request, said the purpose of the report was to examine the cost of deploying  next generation broadband.  The commissioner did not accept the report provided information on factors such as energy, radiation or emissions and therefore did not qualify as environmental information.

Ms Justice Marie Baker found the commissioner took an “overly narrow” approach and fell into error. 

Any information that might have informed Government thinking with regard to the national broadband plan, including economic models or cost-benefit analyses, “is capable of being environmental information, and is so capable, notwithstanding that such models do not contain information on emissions or impact on the environment as such”, she said.

She remitted the matter back to the commissioner for further consideration.