Wednesday 23 October 2019

If scheme goes ahead, first homes could be connected by late 2019

'Given the size and length of the contract – a 25-year deal that will result in the bidder owning the network in the end – the Government has to be able to stand over every provision of it' (stock photo)
'Given the size and length of the contract – a 25-year deal that will result in the bidder owning the network in the end – the Government has to be able to stand over every provision of it' (stock photo)
Adrian Weckler

Adrian Weckler

While pundits, politicians and rival telecoms firms lobby for their preferred outcome, a million people in Ireland's broadband dead zones are asking one thing - when will we get clarity on an outcome, one way or the other?

Having nominally been given the go-ahead by the Smyth audit report, the next thing the National Broadband Plan (NBP) will see is a Government decision on proceeding with the remaining bidder to a contract stage.

Although there is only one company competing for that contract, the Government still says that going ahead with it is not a foregone conclusion.

Given the size and length of the contract - a 25-year deal that will result in the bidder owning the network in the end - the Government has to be able to stand over every provision of it. This is what it has been mostly doing for the last five months. A decision was expected before Christmas, but it may now be in January.

If the Government decides to proceed, the network pre-building process will start in earnest. A contract would be signed between the two parties within weeks and shovels into the ground would soon follow.

If that happens, it's possible we would see the first of the 540,000 homes connected by the end of 2019. The bulk of the remainder would then be hooked up in 2020 with most of the final batch done by the end of 2021. A few thousand will still likely be waiting until after that and might possibly be given a wireless broadband service instead of a fibre landline one.

Other than current political issues around the tender bid, there are other hurdles to overcome. A deal with Eir on access to its rural infrastructure still needs to be hammered out for large chunks of the State-backed rural service to be put in place.

Eir owns most of the rural infrastructure, including all the phone lines that currently service homes and businesses in towns and villages around the country.

The new NBP network has to be able to use some of it. But there's a stand-off going on over it.

Eir wants the going commercial rate, which has been in place since before the NBP was a thing. The bidder and the Government say that this is unrealistic and that a commercial rate isn't appropriate in the current context. The telecoms regulator, Comreg, might be asked to intervene.

Irish Independent

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