A British infrastructure investment firm chaired by the former chief executive of Eircom is one of the backers of a bid to deliver the National Broadband Plan - a contract which the company he once led is also bidding for.
John Laing and 3i have emerged as the backers of a bid for a contract to deliver rural broadband by Enet, in partnership with Enet owner Granahan McCourt. Enet recently completed a 1 gigabit-per-second fibre broadband network in rural North Kerry to showcase its capability to deliver the National Broadband Plan.
John Laing's chairman is Phil Nolan, who was chief executive of Eir (formerly known as Eircom) between 2002 and 2006. He is also chair of Ulster Bank. Eir is also thought to be bidding to take part in the National Broadband Plan.
The Government had promised that 750,000 rural homes and businesses will get access to high-speed broadband by 2020. 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.
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 matched funding from the winning bidders. The Department of Communications has divided the contract into two geographic regions; bidders can pitch for either, or both.
UK-listed John Laing specialises in investing in public-private partnerships for greenfield infrastructure projects around the world. It has invested in developments such as Alder Hey Hospital in the UK, the A1 motorway in Poland and the New Perth Stadium in Australia. It has around £2bn in assets under management.
The 3i group also has a track record of investing in public-private partnerships for infrastructure projects, mainly in Europe.
Other groups thought to be vying for business under the National Broadband Plan contract include Gigabit Fibre, Siro (a joint venture between ESB and Vodafone), and Sean Bolger's telecoms company Imagine, which is reportedly backed by Australian bank Macquarie.
Bidders submitted a pre-qualification questionnaire detailing their technical capability and financial clout to the Department of Communications earlier this month.
Eir has begun connecting some homes already earmarked by the State scheme to its new fibre network but the Department of Communications said recently that the plan has not been altered.