Eir accuses ESB of delaying roll-out of broadband product

Controversial claim comes ahead of awarding of National Broadband Plan contracts

Crossed wires: the ESB has been in direct competition with Eir in the Irish telecoms markets since last year through Siro

Crossed wires: the ESB has been in direct competition with Eir in the Irish telecoms markets since last year through Siro

 

Eir claims it is being thwarted from using the ESB’s network to roll out its new fibre broadband product and that the energy company’s stance could further delay the introduction of high-speed broadband to many parts of the country.

The controversial claim, which is denied by ESB Networks, marks a heightening of tensions between the two utilities ahead of the awarding of contracts for the National Broadband Plan (NBP), in which both companies are involved.

Under the EU’s shared utilities directive, infrastructural companies will soon be obliged to open up their networks to other operators, albeit under certain conditions.

The regulation, which comes into force next month, is designed to facilitate the roll-out of various telecommunications networks, seen as vital for the European economy to keep pace with innovation.

In advance of the NBP, Eir has written several letters to ESB Networks requesting access to parts of its network.

One request relates to the running of cables between Birr and Banagher in Co Offaly and along a route near Kylemore Abbey in Co Galway.

Access to ESB’s network would mean a significant cost-saving for Eir as it traverses fields instead of following the more circuitous road network.

Another request relates to the connection of 23,000 individual homes in various remote locations, most of which are not hooked up to any telecommunications network.

Immediate engagement

The ESB’s network is more extensive than Eir’s as the State-owned utility can legally erect poles on private lands, albeit under agreed commercial terms.

Eir’s director of public policy Pat Galvin told The Irish Times the company was concerned there had been “no substantive engagement by the ESB even though we have repeatedly requested engagement”.

“For the sake of an efficient and quick delivery of the NBP we expect and would welcome the immediate engagement of the ESB,” he said.

He also noted that the energy utility had still lodged its facilities on a country-wide register of infrastructures set up by the Department of Communications in the context of the NBP.

Carolan Lennon, managing director of OpenEir, Eir’s wholesale arm, said the company needed the ESB to process its requests and to agree pricing structures so it could accurately cost its own bid for the NBP.

“Failure to access the ESB’s network will make the NBP more expensive for us and slower to roll out,” she said.

Direct competition

The ESB has been in direct competition with Eir in the Irish telecoms markets since last year via Siro, its joint venture with Vodafone.

The ESB’s corporate communications manager Bernardine Maloney denied there was any dispute or row with Eir regarding the use of the ESB’s infrastructure.

“ESB confirms that it is currently processing any requests received for access to its electricity infrastructure in accordance with the rules of the NBP competition and any applicable legal obligations,” she said.

“In light of these rules it would not be appropriate for ESB to make any further public comment in relation to specific requests for access to its electricity infrastructure.”

“In considering any such requests ESB must take into account a range of issues including the continuing need to provide a safe, secure and reliable electricity network.”

Minister for Communications Denis Naughten confirmed this week that some 32 companies attached to five consortiums – headed by Eir, Siro, Enet, Imagine and Gigabit – were taking part in the procurement process.

The five groups submitted pre-qualification questionnaires ahead of the department’s March deadline for initial submissions and the approved entities will enter a competitive dialogue process with the department next month.

Mr Naughten still has to decide on the ownership model involved, which will determine the State’s financial contribution.

While keeping control of the network may be more popular politically and perhaps better for competition purposes, it will be significantly costlier from the Government’s perspective.

Handing it over to the operator would be cheaper initially but might prove controversial, especially in light of the sale of the State’s second mobile phone licence in the 1990s.

Mr Naughten said he expected to be able to bring a decision to Cabinet before the end of the month.