Business Technology

Sunday 22 September 2019

National Broadband Plan should be delayed for further review or abandoned, says Oireachtas Committee

Communications Minister Richard Bruton. Photo: Tom Burke
Communications Minister Richard Bruton. Photo: Tom Burke
Hildegarde Naughton. Picture credit; Damien Eagers / INM
Green Party leader Eamon Ryan Picture credit: Damien Eagers / INM
Fianna Fáil’s Timmy Dooley. Photo: Tom Burke
Adrian Weckler

Adrian Weckler

An Oireachtas Committee investigating the National Broadband Plan says the state plan should be delayed to make time for a further review, or be abandoned altogether for a new process with the ESB.

The Government is due to begin the rollout in the next 8 weeks.

In the absence of the state ditching the current rural rollout, the Committee recommended that the state should change the current contract to ensure that any infrastructure created is retained by the state and not the company, National Broadband Ireland, rolling out the service.

READ MORE: Colm McCarthy: 'We must make sure what the Government builds is proved to be worth public money'

However, Committee members said they remain unsure of what such infrastructure will be or how much it will be worth.

The Committee - made up of TDs and Senators - was divided along party lines in its deliberations on the NBP, which is to connect around 500,000 rural homes and businesses to high speed broadband at a cost of up to €2.9bn.

While government members voted to continue with the existing plan, opposition members voted to delay or change it.

Although Communications Minister Richard Bruton has said he will listen to what the Committee report says, he is unlikely to adhere to the Committee’s recommendations on delaying the rural rollout further or re-evaluating its constituent parts.

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Fianna Fáil’s Timmy Dooley. Photo: Tom Burke

Fianna Fáil TD Timmy Dooley said that the current process should be put to one side, while Eir is asked whether they might come back into the process. He said that the state is “wasting” money on the process.

However, Mr Dooley said that Fianna Fáil will not “bring down the government” over the issue.

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Green Party leader Eamon Ryan Picture credit: Damien Eagers / INM

Green Party leader Eamon Ryan said that he wants the current contract changed to accommodate new planning rules for new-build homes.

Sinn Fein, who did not have a representative at the Committee’s report meeting, want the plan to be scrapped and the ESB to be mandated to deliver broadband to rural areas.

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Hildegarde Naughton. Picture credit; Damien Eagers / INM

The Committee chairperson, Hildegarde Naughton (FG), said that she did not believe a new set of reviews would yield any new information.

Senator Joe O’Reilly (FG) said that the state “should just get on with it”.

The Committee recommended that an “independent expert” should be appointed to “establish within three months whether there is a legal pathway to achieving the objectives of the NBP through a USO or a direct award to the ESB or to allow for another model of delivery that could be delivered within a similar time frame without the necessity to open up a new gender process”.

On the subject of state infrastructure, the Committee said that a calculation based on the projected revenue of the company led them to believe that the value of the infrastructure could be €455m. However, Committee members said that this was a guess and that it is estimated the infrastructure will only be the cable itself and switching equipment, not towers, masts or land.

The NBP bid involves leasing masts and other sites from Eir, which will continue to own the infrastructure.

The Committee also recommended that the government should “re-engage with the ESB to examiner the best model for delivery fo a New National Broadband Plan through the ESB”.

The government is due to sign a contract with National Broadband Ireland, controlled by Granahan McCourt, in the coming weeks.

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