National Broadband Plan in trouble after SSE pulls out of consortium bidding for contract
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 of supplying high speed broadband to more than 500,000 homes across the country.
Sources told Indpendent.ie that SSE has left the consortium. Enet said it is now “considering and reviewing structures”.
In a statement this evening Enet Chairman David McCourt told Independent.ie the consortium is still committed to the broadband plan.
“While we cannot publicly discuss the NBP 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.”
A spokesman for SSE said: “We have nothing further to add beyond the statement of the Consortium.”
Fianna Fáil communications spokesman Timmy Dooley said SSE’s decision show’s 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.
“We have been saying for some time that the process is too complex and this is highlighted by the list of firms to have pulled out of the procurement process.
“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 and their advanced technological knowhow pulling out must signal there is something inherently wrong with the project.”
The Government had rolled out the National Broadband Plan as a remedy to the lack of adequate high speed internet available in rural areas.
A spokesperson for the Department of Communications said: “The Department of Communications, Climate Action & Environment is in the final stages of a procurement process to appoint a company to rollout high speed broadband to all houses and businesses in every area of the country.
“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.”
Labour TD Sean Sherlock said Communications Minister Denis Naughten has “serious questions to answer”.
“We’ve had a litany of withdrawals from the process on his watch. The next moves from Government on this will be critical,” Mr Sherlock said.
“Public trust is shot to pieces and the broadband plan is in shambles, and citizens will bear the brunt of this latest failure.”
Sinn Fein said the broadband plan is hanging by a thread.
"The programme for government promised to deliver broadband to every home across Ireland by 2020, but as we can clearly see this will be another election promise broken by Fine Gael,” said Laois-Offaly TD Brian Stanley/
"The government must to go back to the drawing board on this one and find an alternative, effective plan on ensuring everybody has access to broadband across Ireland."
Under the plan more than 400,000 homes and business were to connected to the State-subsidised scheme.
Last month Mr McCourt distanced himself from claims the scheme will cost €1.1bn to build. He had been quoted in a UK magazine as saying that the €1.1bn would be divided into €100m up front each from his own Enet, SSE and UK infrastructure group John Laing, with a further €200m for design and construction and the rest in bank debt.