Monday 21 October 2019

Taoiseach says fresh NBP delay down to 'challenge' from wireless operator Imagine

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar
Taoiseach Leo Varadkar
Adrian Weckler

Adrian Weckler

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.

Sean Bolger’s telecoms company says that it merely informed the government of its “existing and planned commercial investment” in some rural areas targeted by NBP.

Earlier this week, the Taoiseach said that the wireless company’s “challenge” had caused the NBP holdup.

“On the National Broadband Plan, the contract has not been signed but we have appointed a preferred bidder,” said Mr Varadkar.

“Imagine has challenged the maps and that has caused a delay. Imagine provides a service in many parts of rural Ireland and has challenged the intervention area. The challenge was initially made to the Department [of Communications]. The Department was then required to consult the European Commission for reasons relating to state aid rules. We anticipate that the contract will be signed by the end of the year, which will allow the first homes across rural ireland to be connected to high speed broadband next year.”

However, the wireless operator told today that its “challenge” was merely infrastructural data that was requested from it by the Department of Cmmunications.

“As required, we have responded to the Department’s request for all operators in the Irish market to detail existing and planned commercial investment in the market by providing the Department with all relevant information including our commercial investment in existing high speed broadband infrastructure in the market, where Imagine has already invested and is further expanding its network to meet demand in existing coverage areas and an update on the progress of our plans for further commercial investment in new areas,” said a company spokeswoman.

“The identification of areas where commercial high-speed broadband services already exist for the purpose of mapping the intervention area is an obligation and requirement of the state under the state aid approval process. In circumstances where the [Department] has been aware of Imagine’s commercial investment in the market and is aware of the availability of existing commercial services, it is difficult to understand how a factual response of the existence of commercial services in the market could be characterised as a challenge by Imagine to such maps.”

Under EU state aid rules, government agencies cannot roll out services if there are viable existing commercial services already in existence.

Imagine announced an expansion of its wireless broadband network in rural Ireland earlier this year, as the government was finalising its €3bn publicly-funded fibre network.

Imagine claims that it now has infrastructure in place that could deliver broadband to 234,000 of the 540,000 premises identified in the state’s NBP intervention map, which lists the homes and businesses that cannot be served by high speed broadband at equivalent speed and quality to urban areas.

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