Broadband process still competitive despite Eir’s exit, officials say

Senior official in charge rejects claim Government has been left on back foot

About 542,000 homes and businesses across the State stand to benefit from the State-subsidised National Broadband Plan.

About 542,000 homes and businesses across the State stand to benefit from the State-subsidised National Broadband Plan.

 

The Government’s broadband tender process remains competitive even with just one bidder left in the race, the most senior official in charge of the project has claimed.

National Broadband Plan (NBP) programme director Fergal Mulligan dismissed suggestions that the Government had been left on the back foot by the recent departure of Eir, the State’s largest telco.

Mr Mulligan said the sole remaining bidder, the Enet-led consortium, would be operating in a highly competitive and changeable market and “needed to hit the ground running”.

“They know that the minute this is built they will be hit by thousands and thousands of orders. There’s fundamental pressure on them as a consortium to deliver for their shareholders,” Mr Mulligan said.

“Their prerogative is to make a rate of return and to get bums on seats as they say. They’re not here just to get state aid because then they lose their money,” he said.

He was responding to Fianna Fáil communications spokesman Timmy Dooley, who said Enet now held “all the aces” when it came to timeline and price.

But Mr Mulligan insisted the plan would be delivered on time and at a competitive price for the taxpayer.

“We are giving them a grant. They then need to build this as quick as they can to get people actually buying the service and get revenue in,” he said.

About 542,000 homes and businesses across the State stand to benefit from the State-subsidised programme.

Pole position

The department’s tender process was rocked earlier this month by the surprise exit of Eir, which had been favourite to win the contract. The company’s departure leaves the Enet-SSE consortium, comprising telecoms firm Enet and FTSE-listed energy firm SSE, in pole position to win the State contract.

However, questions have been raised about the competitiveness of the tender and whether the taxpayer will get value for money with just one bidder.

Mr Mulligan said the size of the State subsidy would not be decided until the department is happy that Enet had the right solution.

The department’s controversial decision to farm out 300,000 homes originally earmarked for the plan to Eir on a commercial basis, a move that has been blamed for the withdrawal of the two other bidders – the ESB-Vodafone venture Siro and Eir itself – was again raised by several deputies.

Officials acknowledged the department originally rejected Eir’s proposal to have these premises included in the company’s commercial rollout and removed from the State-subsidised scheme back in 2015, concluding the company had not satisfied financial or technical deployment criteria.

However, this decision was revised in 2017 on foot of an updated plan from Eir and the homes were subsequently removed from the department’s intervention map. This later prompted the departure of ESB-Vodafone joint venture Siro.