Eir wants ESB to share its toys

As both companies vie for broadband business, Eir piles on pressure to use ESB pylons

Nobody is more intimately acquainted with the ESB and its extensive network of pylons than its telecoms cousin Eir.

Eir's chairman Padraig McManus was the former chief executive of ESB , until last year, while its recently retired head of networks, John Shine, was the ESB's deputy chief executive as recently as 2013.

Confused? Welcome to the merry-go-round of Irish business. Eir's insider knowledge of the electricity utility could come in handy with both companies vying for a slice of the action under the National Broadband Plan (NBP).

The ESB entered the telecoms market last year via its joint venture with Vodafone, Siro.


Under the EU’s shared utilities directive, infrastructural companies are now obliged to open up their networks to other operators to facilitate the construction of vital telecommunications networks such as the NBP.

As part of its fibre broadband roll-out, and under the auspices of its NBP bid, Eir has already submitted five “access requests” to ESB seeking to use its infrastructure.

Such use could mean a significant cost-saving for Eir, which is forced to drop poles along the country’s circuitous road network unlike the ESB which enjoys a legal right to access private lands.

However, with the ESB bidding against Eir for the NBP contract, it remains to be seen if the electricity company will be sufficiently motivated to facilitate these requests, potentially enhancing its rival’s bid.

“At this point we have made over five requests to the ESB but have received no satisfactory response to date,” an Eir spokeswoman said. The ESB declined to comment.

The ESB could, in theory, seek access to Eir’s network via the same directive but there is an asymmetry in the relationship between the State’s two big utilities.

For one, the ESB’s network is more extensive than Eir’s and is in better condition having benefited from an €8 billion upgrade in recent years.

Eir can’t boast the same level of upkeep and has suffered from years of underinvestment, which critics link to privatisation.

The escalating friction between these two sectoral incumbents makes for an interesting spectacle.