Tuesday 25 September 2018

Eir has quit the National Broadband Plan but government insists rollout will continue

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Adrian Weckler

Adrian Weckler

Eir has quit the National Broadband Plan, leaving the government’s rural broadband rollout with just one remaining bidder.

Government sources say that the move will not derail the state-sponsored project, which promises high speed internet to every rural household and business.

The head of the only remaining bidder for the contract, Enet, has also reaffirmed his company’s “commitment” to getting the rollout done.

“We are totally committed to Ireland,” David McCourt told Independent.ie.

“We are fully confident that we will deliver on time. We have huge experience of doing this in other countries.”

McCourt said that Eir’s withdrawal from the competitive process would not mean a higher price to taxpayers, given one less competitor.

“Almost all of that has been submitted at this stage,” he said. “We’re at the very end of this part of it.”

However, McCourt said that access to Eir infrastructure is “crucial” for the National Broadband Plan to succeed and that “more work has to be done” to make this happen.

A spokesman for Eir said that he had no comment on why Eir withdrew, but that the company would clarify its position shortly.

However, the company will now face accusations that its recent acquisition by French billionaire Xavier Niel has immediately resulted in a shifting of strategy away from rural Ireland and more towards cities.

Up until recent weeks, Eir was an enthusiastic supporter of the National Broadband Plan with chief executive Richard Moat promising to compete and win the tender.

Moat is to step down as chief executive once Niel’s acquisition, which values Eir at €3.5bn, is complete.

The National Broadband Plan, which promises to provide every rural dwelling with high speed internet, has been hit by delays since it was touted in 2012.

Last year, it was dealt a significant blow with the withdrawal from the bidding process of Siro, the joint venture formed by Vodafone and the ESB.

That left only two shortlisted bidders, Eir and Enet.

At the time, Communications Minister Denis Naughten insisted that the process would continue and that competition between the remaining bidders will result in comprehensive rural broadband network.

However, promise of a tender document in “early 2018” has not yet come to pass.

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