Monday 19 August 2019

Editorial: 'Government faces testing questions over broadband'

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If it sounds too good to be true it probably is. But when it comes to State money surely it is at least worth finding out?

With this in mind, why was the Government "not listening" when it was apparently "repeatedly" told by Eir that it could replace the National Broadband Plan for under €1bn of taxpayers' money?

The somewhat astonishing claim was made by Eir's CEO Carolan Lennon at a Dáil committee meeting.

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The Taoiseach will not have been the only one startled by it. Eir has its own agenda and interests, so some might also argue it could be open to allegations of sour grapes. It might also be pointed out the company played its own part in the protracted broadband crisis.

Nonetheless, Taoiseach Leo Varadkar was sufficiently stirred by the revelations for the Department of Communications to despatch a letter to Ms Lennon seeking "clarification".

Mr Varadkar described her remarks as "a big turnaround" and that he "was all ears".

By Eir's account, the Government was actually told about the offer last year. If this is so and if the offer really was so attractive, why was the Government not listening back then? Yesterday, Mr Varadkar said: "We need to know if this offer is real."

We also need to know what precisely Eir was offering: are we comparing like with like, and would the customer be on the hook for any shortfall?

One way or another it seems strange to be raising such issues at this point.

For only last month, amid much fanfare, the Government launched its preferred bidder for the National Broadband Plan.

It was a consortium led by US businessman David McCourt.

Business Minister Heather Humphreys said this would be a "game-changer".

So could it be that the game could be set to change again?

The Government is content to shell out €3bn for the bulk of the cost of delivery, so there must surely be a reason why the State is comfortable with such an arrangement with another offer in the air at one-third of the price?

Much depends on the answers to these questions.

Only yesterday, Mr Varadkar was warning that a no-deal disorderly departure of the UK from the EU looks more likely.

Despite the detailed planning he cautioned such a scenario would be "deeply challenging with many risks which can't be mitigated".

We need to future-proof ourselves as far as possible to protect international investment here.

In launching any plan, they say if you are not prepared to hear the bad news, by the time you find out about it, the damage is already done.

To be still examining the viability of offers such as Eir's so late in the day seems odd, to say the least.

The people of rural Ireland were promised a rollout, not a roll-back.

Irish Independent

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