Saturday 18 January 2020

Doubts about broadband roll-out as SSE pulls out of plan

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Wayne O'Connor and Cormac McQuinn

Plans to roll out high-speed internet as part of the Government's National Broadband Plan are in trouble after SSE pulled out of a consortium bidding for the contract.

The Enet consortium, of which SSE was a member, is the sole remaining bidder for the plan. Telecoms firm Eir pulled out of the tendering process earlier this year.

SSE's decision to leave the consortium raises questions about the future of the Government's plan to supply high- speed broadband to 500,000 homes across the country.

Sources last night told the Sunday Independent that SSE has left the consortium.

Enet said it is now "considering and reviewing structures".

Enet Chairman David McCourt said the consortium will make its final submission in the coming weeks.

"While we cannot publicly discuss the National Broadband Plan process, I do want to take this opportunity to underline, in the strongest possible terms, our continued commitment to Ireland and to the Government's policy of delivering a high-speed rural broadband network," he said.

"The consortium has always understood the criticality of the project to the State.

"As a result we are considering and reviewing structures so as to ensure the optimum response to the tender process for the National Broadband Plan by a group of investors with unmatched success in telecoms, infrastructure and Public Private Partnerships to deliver it."

SSE said it would not add further comment.

Fianna Fail communications spokesman Timmy Dooley criticised the Government's plan last night, saying the fact there was one remaining bidder pointed to flaws.

Mr Dooley said SSE's decision shows the Government's tendering process to roll out the plan has been too complex.

"It also clearly shows the Government has low-balled in terms of what it is willing to pay. Vodafone has pulled out, the ESB pulled out and Eir has most recently pulled out.

"They clearly saw some problems here. Companies of their size and scale pulling out must signal there is something inherently wrong with the project."

A spokesman for the Department of Communications said it is in the final stages of a procurement process to appoint a company to roll out the plan.

He said: "We are expecting the final tender in the coming weeks with a conclusion to the process expected shortly thereafter.

"Details of the procurement process remain confidential until a preferred bidder is appointed and progress to award a contract is finalised."

Sunday Independent

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