Broadband plan attracts interest from more than 10 firms

Two subsidised contracts for rural broadband project to be awarded later this year

Eir, the State’s largest broadband provider, and Siro, the ESB-Vodafone joint venture, are seen as the front runners in the bidding process. Photograph: Andrew Matthews/PA Wire

Eir, the State’s largest broadband provider, and Siro, the ESB-Vodafone joint venture, are seen as the front runners in the bidding process. Photograph: Andrew Matthews/PA Wire

 

More than 10 potential bidders have registered an interest in the Government’s rural broadband project through the State’s eTenders website.

The Government plans to award two subsidised contracts for the rollout of high-speed broadband to 757,000 homes in rural Ireland later this year.

The scheme is likely to cost up to €1.5 billion over 10 years with the State expected to provide half the money, making it the largest rural project undertaken since electrification in the 1950s.

Eir, the State’s largest broadband provider, and Siro, the ESB-Vodafone joint venture, are seen as the front runners in the bidding process.

However, the shortlist is also likely to include fibre network operator Enet, new market entrant Gigabit Fibre, which is fronted by former O2 Ireland boss Danuta Gray, and telecoms firm Imagine, whose shareholders include NTR and Kilsaran Concrete.

British telcos Virgin and BT are also said to be keeping an eye on the tender. Axione, a subsidiary of the French energy giant Bouygues, which has won similar contracts in France, is understood to have contacted the department about the project.

Potential bidders will be invited by the department to take part in a competitive dialogue process next month.

“Following receipt of submissions, the department expects to bring a shortlist of interested parties to Government in April,” a Department of Communications spokeswoman said.

The department will select its preferred bidder or bidders near the end of the year with the first homes likely to be connected from the start of 2017, she added.

Poor-quality rural broadband has been highlighted as a contributory factor in Ireland’s two-tier economy.

Any contract award will be conditional on Ireland receiving European state-aid approval for the intervention. Under EU state-aid rules, the Government cannot subsidise an intervention if existing private operators say they will supply services to the same areas.

Under Minister for Communication Alex White’s plan, the State will be broken into two regional lots, north and south, with interested parties able to bid for one or two lots.