Department denies new delay to rural broadband scheme

Many households may now have to wait until 2022 to see any progress

The Department of Communications has denied the National Broadband Plan is facing further delays amid reports that officials have told regional authorities that work will not now commence until at least the second half of next year.

The State-subsidised scheme to equip 542,000 rural homes and businesses with high-speed broadband has been beset with problems and delays due to the complexity of the procurement process and difficulties pinning down the exact number of premises to be covered.

Work was to have started at the beginning of 2018 but this has now been put back, and officials are understood to have told regional development authorities that the initial batch of homes would not now be connected until late summer or possibly autumn.

However, a department spokesman said there was no delay to the roll-out of the plan. " The department has consistently stated the importance of affording the procurement the time it needs to ensure a successful conclusion to the process and the best possible solution for Ireland, " he said.


“In light of the sensitivity of this procurement, it is not intended to comment further on the process, except to state that the department remains on schedule to move to final tender stage in early 2018,” he added.

More recently Minister for Communications Denis Naughten has refused to specify a start date for the scheme, noting only that 90 per cent of homes would be connected by 2020.

The department also said yesterday that the plan has been a catalyst for commercial investment, with more than €2.75 billion invested by industry over the past five years. It also highlighted that Eir, as part of the commitment agreement with the department, has passed more than 101,000 premises and was on schedule to pass 300,000 homes originally earmarked for the plan by the end of 2018.

Two bidders

There are just two companies remaining in the procurement process – market incumbent Eir and wholesale broadband supplier Enet. The department said it was evaluating the two bidders' "detailed submissions", which were submitted in September, alongside the announcement that ESB/Vodafone tie-up Siro had dropped out.

“The complex process is being managed by the department’s specialist NBP team. So far there has been over 150 hours of dialogue between the team and bidders, focused on the 2,000 pages of contract documentation,” he said.

“Since September there has been over 65 additional hours of competitive dialogue alone,” he said, noting that evaluation of the detailed submissions was the last stage of the procurement process before receipt of final tenders and ultimate progression to the appointment of a preferred bidder or bidders.

The scheme is expected to take between three and five years to complete and involve a State subsidy of up to €600 million.

While most premises targeted under the scheme will be equipped with high-speed broadband within the first two years of the contract, many may now have to wait until 2022 to see any progress.

Eoin Burke-Kennedy

Eoin Burke-Kennedy

Eoin Burke-Kennedy is Economics Correspondent of The Irish Times