Tuesday 16 July 2019

Eir certain it can roll out national broadband plan for under one billion euros

Eir CEO Carolan Lennon, appeared before an Oireachtas committee investigating the National Broadband Plan

Eir are confident they can roll-out the NBP for less than one billion euros (Rui Vieira/PA)
Eir are confident they can roll-out the NBP for less than one billion euros (Rui Vieira/PA)

By Aoife Moore, Press Association

Eir is “certain” it could roll out a national broadband plan for Ireland for under one billion euros, a committee has heard.

Eir CEO Carolan Lennon, appeared before an Oireachtas committee investigating the National Broadband Plan (NBP) process and how to roll out rural broadband across the country to more than 540,000 properties.

Ms Lennon told members her company could complete the infrastructure to “every home and farm” in Ireland at a much lower cost than the government’s plan, which could cost the taxpayer up to three billion euros.

She estimates a cost for around one billion euros over 25 years for the maintenance of network ducts and poles, and includes VAT.

Ms Lennon’s opening statement said that “the logic” of not using fibre Eir has already installed, but duplicating their work, “is not clear to us”.

“It is clear to us that we can build rural fibre infrastructure at a lower cost than is currently envisaged in the plans,”  she said.

“There is no secret in that.”

She added that: “The quality of service would be equal to what we provide for the current 300,000 (rural homes they are already contracted to deliver fibre broadband for).”

The National Broadband plan has caused considerable consternation since its inception, including the withdrawal of Eir from the original tendering process after 18 months, and the shock resignation of former communications minister Denis Naughten after it emerged he held a number of meetings with David McCourt, Granahan McCourt’s chief executive.

The US-based investment firm is now the government’s preferred bidder for the contract.

Eir also does not believe that a three-year build time is realistic for the roll-out for the plan, it estimates around five to seven years is more accurate – and that it would not be willing to re-enter the NBP plan in its current form.

“We certainly don’t want to re-enter the NBP in its current form, we’re a commercial company, we know how to do this, if there was another form where it was commercially sensible to do this, we would,” Ms Lennon said.

It emerged during the committee that Richard Moat, who was then Eir CEO, wrote to the minister to inform him that Eir would be pulling out, as the plan was not commercially viable, but told the minister they could provide the fibre broadband for a “fraction of the price” but never heard back from the minister.

Green Party leader Eamon Ryan said that the minister had this knowledge, and that he did not reply was “just incredible”.

It was noted by Sinn Fein’s Rose Conway Walsh that there have been “years of torment” for some people attempting to reach Eir’s customer service team and a general lack of investment in rural Ireland by the company.

Ms Walsh said that “eyebrows were raised” when Eir announced its broadband plan, considering some of the public opinion.

Ms Lennon replied that the company has made great efforts in solving the issue, and most customer service calls are being answered within 90 seconds.

“We have history and people are sceptical, but the proof will be in the pudding,” she said.

“People will be able to get fibre broadband because of Eir’s investment.”

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