THE junior Communications Minister, Sean Canney, says that the €3 billion National Broadband Plan contract is to be signed “within weeks”.
Speaking at a Budget 2020 press conference, Mr Canney said that the €3bn plan is “the biggest investment since rural electrification in this country“. He said that ”an average of over €100m in every local authority in the country” is to be invested in the infrastructural project.
Communications Minister Richard Bruton added that he is “confident” that the current delay in signing a contract, which Taoiseach Leo Varadkar attributed to a “challenge” by wireless operator Imagine Communications over the rural areas to be covered, will soon be resolved.
“We’re working toward the end of the year,” said Mr Bruton.
The €3bn plan promises to deliver fibre broadband to more than 500,000 rural homes and businesses.
The Government is waiting to sign the contract with National Broadband Ireland, the company set up by Grantham McCourt founder David McCourt.
However, it has stalled signing the contract after Sean Bolger’s wireless operator, Imagine, “challenged” the state project based on that company’s claimed rollout in rural areas. The wireless operator denies challenging the process and says it was merely responding to a government request on where its own broadband services were targeted.
“There are a number of things that have to be completed,” said Mr Bruton. “The mapping has to be approved [by the European Commission]. We have to be satisfied that any operators who looks to take on those rural areas reach a threshold of the broadband being high speed and future-proof. I’m confident that we will complete those things.”
However, he said that intervention map may be varied, depending on the outcome of a consultation with regional operators.
Mr Bruton said that €119m has been allocated in Budget 2020 to “begin delivery” of the National Broadband Plan.
However, he declined to give an exact date on when the project will physically begin.
The wireless broadband operator Imagine has denied that it is freshly challenging the state’s National Broadband Plan, despite Taoiseach Leo Varadkar saying so in the Dail and attributing the current delay in signing the rural rollout contract delay to the operator.