Thursday 17 January 2019

Broadband roll-out fear as EU warns of shortfall

Communications Minister Denis Naughten. Photo: Tom Burke
Communications Minister Denis Naughten. Photo: Tom Burke
Kevin Doyle

Kevin Doyle

Millions more euro than budgeted for will have to be pumped into the roll-out of broadband in the coming years, an EU report indicates.

The audit of Ireland's progress in delivering broadband to every home says it is "highly unlikely" the €275m set aside by the Government will be enough.

It also warns the impact of bidders pulling out from the tendering process is still "unclear".

Enet is now the sole bidder for the project, which should result in 540,000 premises being connected to the National Broadband Plan.

Ireland has received €75m from the European Regional Development Fund to help bridge the "financing gap" between investment from private operators and the full cost of the broadband roll-out.

The Government has budgeted €200m, but the audit report states: "Although the tendering process has not been completed at the time of the audit, this sum is highly unlikely to be sufficient to bridge the financing gap."

Today's report from the EU Court of Auditors (ECA), which is the equivalent of the Irish Controller General, raises tough questions for Communications Minister Denis Naughten.

The auditors also highlighted "weaknesses" which have resulted in "competitive issues".

"The limitations on the power of the national regulator authority [ComReg] to enforce its decision were seen as a possible means to reduce the scope for effective competition," it says.

The report concludes Ireland is unlikely to reach a target of having 30Mbs broadband available to all citizens by 2020.

"However, if the current plans are implemented as intended, Ireland will be better placed to achieve the 2025 targets," it says.

By then the EU expects all households should have access to ultra-fast broadband, upgradable to 1Gbs.

Dublin MEP Brian Hayes, who sits on the Budget Control Committee of the European Parliament, welcomed the report but said its findings were "mixed".

"On a positive level, it highlights that Ireland has made significant progress, especially in recent years delivering fast broadband connectivity.

"What is worrying are outstanding issues concerning the Investment Ireland plan for broadband. According to the ECA, this cannot be delivered on time. Equally worrying is the 'financing gap'."

Irish Independent

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