Broadband network 'must stay in State ownership'
The Government is being told to overhaul plans to deliver rural broadband to more than half-a-million homes and keep the new network in public ownership.
The Oireachtas Communications Committee is recommending an independent external review be carried out into whether the current €3bn plan to deliver the National Broadband Plan (NBP) through a consortium led by businessman David McCourt is the only viable option.
It also recommends a new cost-benefit analysis should be carried out.
The committee wants the external review to establish within three months whether rural broadband can be delivered to 540,000 homes, farms and businesses by giving the responsibility for the project to the ESB or through other means, without reopening the tender process.
It calls for the Government to re-engage with the ESB to examine ways to deliver the plan. The report is also recommending the broadband network, once delivered, should be kept in State ownership.
"As the State will be providing the vast majority of the capital to pay for the development of this asset it is hard to justify why the ownership should not in the end revert to the State," the recommendations state.
The report's conclusions are highly critical of the Government's approach to the NBP, describing the procurement process as "overly complex, restrictive, redundant and unfit for purpose in delivering high-speed broadband at an affordable price".
The Department of Communications said it would consider the committee's report "once it has been published".
A series of votes were held on its conclusions and recommendations by TDs and senators yesterday. A Fine Gael amendment to proceed with the current plan without any further delay was rejected.
The plan to deliver broadband to a million people in rural Ireland has been beset by controversy after all but one of the bidders pulled out of the tender process.