National Broadband Plan delay concerns sparking 'aggressive' tender specs
The Government is to seek "more aggressive timelines" to build State-subsidised rural broadband services as fears of delays to the National Broadband Plan grow.
The Government had promised that 750,000 rural homes and businesses would get access to modern broadband by 2020.
However, any commencement of construction is now unlikely to start until next year and will have an anticipated five year completion period.
It means that many rural homes may be left without adequate broadband until 2022, two years after the Government's promised delivery date and 10 years after the government first launched the state-subsidised scheme.
Ireland ranks 20th out of 28 EU countries on broadband take-up, with just 8pc of rural Ireland covered by fast broadband compared to a European average of 25pc.
A spokeswoman for the Department of Communications, Energy and Natural Resources said the Government still hopes to make the 2020 deadline.
"The Department will request bidders to put forward more aggressive timelines and marks will be awarded during the procurement process to incentivise this to achieve the objective of full rollout by 2020," she said.
The contract to build the network out to 750,000 rural homes and businesses could be worth upwards of €500m of State funding, with the Government seeking an unspecified amount of matching investment from winning contract bidders.
At present, 10 telecoms companies have expressed an interest in discussing the National Broadband Plan rollout with the Government.
Eir and Siro, the joint fibre venture between Vodafone and the ESB, are considered to be front runners to contend for the state contract. Enet, the company that manages metropolitan area networks in 94 towns around the country, has also indicated that it intends to compete for the state broadband tender.
Other companies to have expressed an interest include French-based Bouyges subsidiary Axione and Gigabit Fibre, which is fronted by the former O2 Ireland boss Danuta Gray.
Virgin Media, formerly UPC, will not compete for the National Broadband Plan tender according to its chief executive, Tony Hanway.
The number of homes and businesses under the tender could shrink, according to officials in the Department of Communications, Energy and Natural Resources.
The officials say that if Eir proceeds with plans to build out fibre infrastructure to 300,000 of the identified 750,000 rural premises, those 300,000 premises will be withdrawn from the National Broadband Plan.
Under EU competition rules, state bodies cannot intervene with services where there are viable commercial alternatives.
Then Government minister Pat Rabbitte launches the National Broadband Plan, pledging high speed access to every home in country
Government commences mapping exercise of broadband coverage in rural areas
Government completes mapping exercise, seeks approval from EU for state intervention. Launches pre-tender consultation with telecoms companies
Government sets March 31 deadline for end of pre-tender consultation with telecoms companies. Government expresses hope of awarding tender by the end of this year