Eir to outline broadband plan concerns to Oireachtas committee

Commercial, regulatory and governance issues set to add to costs, company to argue

Eir will tell the PAC the company invested €7 million in its bid to become the operator for the National Broadband Plan, before pulling out of the process.

Eir will tell the PAC the company invested €7 million in its bid to become the operator for the National Broadband Plan, before pulling out of the process.

 

Eir will tell an Oireachtas committee on Thursday of its “commercial, regulatory and governance concerns” about the National Broadband Plan (NBP), which it believes will drive “very substantial additional costs and delays” to the rollout of rural broadband.

In her opening statement to the Committee of Public Accounts (PAC), Eir chief executive Carolan Lennon will say the company invested €7 million in its bid to become the operator for the NBP, before ultimately pulling out of the process.

She will say that the Department of Communications, Climate Action and Environment was aware even when it submitted its bid, in September 2017, that it had “a range of commercial, regulatory and governance concerns about elements emerging in the procurement process”.

Regarding the company’s decision to pull out of the process, Ms Lennon will tell the committee that Eir “came to the conclusion that the NBP framework would drive very substantial additional costs and delays to the rollout of high-speed broadband to rural Ireland”.

Inefficiency

“In our view, the NBP framework resulted in duplication and inefficiency, adding to the ultimate cost to deliver high-speed broadband to non-commercial areas of rural Ireland, and hence was incapable of acceptance by Eir,” the statement reads.

The Eir opening statement is the second such submission to the PAC to raise concerns about the NBP process. Today will also see evidence from Imagine Communications chief executive Seán Bolger, who will argue that the process is facing “existential threats” and the “significant risk” of overspend and delays.

Ms Lennon will also outline how specific issues made it unattractive for Eir to submit a final bid for the NBP, including a requirement to create a stand-alone company to administer the project and to ring-fence funding.

She will say: “These issues were raised consistently with the NBP team in the department throughout the process but not addressed.”

Eir will also tell the committee that it was “surprised and disappointed” that a contract for the operation of the State’s metropolitan area networks was extended without tender, and that it would have bid for the contract given the chance.

The department yesterday published an independent review of how Enet is operating that contract, which found the company was not in compliance with elements of its code of practice.

Minister for Communications Richard Bruton referred the report to ComReg, saying it “raised a number of matters of concern”. In a statement, Enet said the report highlights that it is adhering to the code of practice “while suggesting some improvements be made”.