Original €500m rural broadband rollout cost based on scheme 'not fit for purpose'
Mark Griffin declined to say how much plan would now cost for "commercial sensitivity reasons"
Initial estimates of €500m for the rural rollout of the government’s National Broadband Plan were abandoned because they were based on a scheme that was “not fit for purpose”, says one of the government’s top civil servants.
Mark Griffin, Secretary General of the Department of Communications, declined to say how much the National Broadband Plan would now cost for "commercial sensitivity reasons".
However he told the joint Oireachtas Public Accounts Committee that there is a figure now established for the likely cost.
Taoiseach Leo Varadkar recently said that the plan would cost a multiple of the initial €500m estimate.
Asked whether he thought the National Broadband Plan would proceed, Mr Griffin declined to offer any assurance.
"I’m confident that the project as presented will deliver on a lot of the government’s objectives," said Mr Griffin. "But the decision on whether to proceed or not is a government decision."
Communications Minister Richard Bruton told the Dail this week that he would bring a recommendation to Cabinet on the issue within the next three weeks.
The scheme, which is die to provide high speed broadband to 1m people in 540,000 rural households, was due to be decided on last year but has been repeatedly delayed.
Social Democrat TD Catherine Murphy asked whether the process was at risk by only having one remaining bidder, Granahan McCourt, for the state contract.
"It’s not usual to have a single bidder although it’s not ideal," said Mr Griffin. "If you look at the UK equivalent of the National Broadband Plan, there was only one final bidder, BT, after Fujitsu pulled out. But it’s always better if you have more bidders in terms of competitive tension."
Ms Murphy asked whether there were any parallels with the National Childrens Hospital from a cost analysis.
"The fundamental difference between this and the National Childrens Hopsital is in how we reached a situation where a cost estimate was very different from what we thought at the start. The Childrens Hospital is an issue around how cost escalated when construction had commenced."
Mr Griffin said that the basic speed of a National Broadband Plan service would be 150 megabits per second, with 1,000 megabits per second for schools and businesses.
Asked about timelines, Mr Griffin said that his officials would "finalise the evaluation work and bring a memorandum to government with a recommendation for the appointment of a preferred bidder" but that "there would be a number of contractual issues" outstanding.
He said that if and when a preferred bidder is agreed upon, it would then take "weeks" or longer to sign a contract.
The current delay makes the possibility of connections to a new National Broadband Plan service unlikely in 2019.