Rival contests ESB link to Britain plan
ESB’S PLAN to build a telecoms link between Ireland and Britain faces a court challenge from a rival which claims that the State company’s proposals could de-rail up to €100 million in private investment.
ESB Telecom (ESBT), a subsidiary of the State energy company, has joined forces with Geo Networks in a venture called Emerald Bridge Fibres, to lay broadband lines between Dublin and Wales. The plan is to connect ESBT’s Irish fibre optic network with Geo’s British network.
Emerald Bridge is proposing to follow the same route as an existing series of cables owned by Sea Fibre Networks, an Irish-based operator backed by US investors. Sea Fibre began operating the line, which cost $15 million (€11.5 million), in January and its customers include multinationals with businesses in the Republic.
The ESB plan has prompted the company to put plans to invest a total of $100 million here on hold.
Sea Fibre Networks is going to the High Court to get a judicial review of Emerald Bridge’s plans. The case involves its rival’s application for a foreshore licence, which it needs to operate the cable, and is against the Department of the Environment, which grants these permits, rather than Emerald Bridge itself.
Sea Fibre chief executive Diane Hodnett and director Andrew Lazerow argued yesterday that their business will have to compete against the State in a situation where there is no commercial case to have a second operator on the same route.
“If it were not a State company, they would have to justify it on a profit and loss basis to their shareholders, but ESB Telecom does not have to,” he said.
He added that Sea Fibre would have no problem if it were competing on the same route with Geo, or some other private operator, on its own, or if Emerald Bridge chose another route.
The ESB said yesterday that its telecoms subsidiary is funding its investment in the Emerald Bridge venture independently of the parent group.
“It is not supported by ESB’s regulated business and its success or failure is based on its ability to compete in the market,” the State company said. Ms Hodnett pointed out that there is no precedent in the industry for two fibre optic cable operators to use the same route.
She also maintained that there was no need for a State company’s involvement, as there is no lack of private players willing to invest in telecoms links between Ireland and Britain.
Geo operates a link in partnership with Eirgrid while Virgin Media owns a separate connection. As it stands, she said, there is enough fibre optic capacity for the next 10 years under the Irish Sea.
ESB said that its subsidiary and Geo have been working on the Emerald Bridge project for two years. “We believe that there is room in the market for more operators,” the company said.