€2.9bn broadband plan will go ahead despite criticism
The €2.9bn National Broadband Plan (NBP) looks likely to go ahead, despite criticism of the project in an Oireachtas committee report.
Communications Minister Richard Bruton yesterday denied that he would ignore the recommendations of the communications committee, which criticised the tendering process for the NBP.
But he said that the highspeed broadband will be a "lifeline" for rural Ireland, adding: "It is absolutely essential that 1.1 million people are not left behind in terms of access to a technology that is transformative. I believe that this is the right thing to go ahead with this deal."
The report recommended that an external review of the plans take place and that the network infrastructure should be kept in State ownership, which will not happen under the current terms of the NBP.
The plan has been beset with difficulties and delays and the final contract still has not been signed.
Fine Gael members of the communications committee opposed the report's conclusions and recommendations.
Mr Bruton said a preferred bidder for the NBP has now been appointed and added: "We have to do the due diligence before we sign the contracts."
He added that he will be considering the committee's recommendations.
The minister defended the tendering process, saying it was "very rigorous" and included oversight of the work with "independent evaluation and expertise".
He warned: "If there were any of that process to be changed, we would have to abandon the tender and start all over again. That would involve a five-year wait for people to get access to broadband."
On the prospect of an external review, he insisted that the NBP process is "full of external reviews and due diligence" and the plans have been subject to "intense scrutiny".
Mr Bruton also indicated that he would be open to a recommendation put forward by Green Party leader Eamon Ryan that new rural 'one-off' homes that get planning permission should pay the costs of their connections to the network.
"That's an idea that could be looked at within the context of the arrangements that are in place," he said.
Speaking at the launch of the committee's report earlier this week, Fianna Fáil TD Timmy Dooley said the NBP process should be put to one side while Eir is asked whether it might be prepared to come back into the process.
He also said the State was "wasting" money. However, he conceded his party would not "bring down the Government" over the issue.
Sinn Féins want the plan to be scrapped and the ESB to be mandated to deliver broadband to rural areas.