Government publishes heavily redacted version of National Broadband Plan

Much of the published version, which runs to more than 3,000 pages, is blacked out

A heavily redacted version of the €3 billion National Broadband Plan contract has finally been published, more than nine months after the controversial agreement was first signed.

Much of the published version, the full version of which runs to more than 3,000 pages, is blacked out, making it largely unreadable. The Department of Communications said this was due to “commercial sensitivities”.

The then minister for communications, Richard Bruton, previously told Social Democrats TD Catherine Murphy of plans to publish the contract weeks after it was first signed last November. However, the department held back from publishing it until Tuesday.

National Broadband Ireland (NBI) was awarded the multibillion-euro State contract to roll out broadband to 540,000 homes and businesses after Eir and Siro withdrew from the competition.

Under the terms of the contract, the winning bidder – Granahan McCourt, the US investment firm founded by tech billionaire David McCourt – had to set up a separate legal entity, in this case NBI.

The company said recently that up to 10,000 homes will be passed by the network by the end of 2020, while it will have “detailed design plans” for an additional 108,000, equating to 20 per cent of 540,000 households covered by the project.

The target is to pass 115,000 premises by the end of next year, with 70,000-120,000 passed each year thereafter until the rollout is complete.

However, a departmental briefing document supplied to new Minister for Communications Eamon Ryan indicates that the rollout has been impacted by the Covid-19 pandemic.

The briefing document also revealed that NBI is investing €223 million in equity and working capital as part of its initial funding of the project, while the State subsidy is capped at €2.97 billion. This includes €354 million in VAT to be repaid to the exchequer, and a contingency subsidy of €480 million, which can be drawn down only in specific circumstances.

NBI announced earlier this month that customers will receive download speeds that are considerably faster than originally envisaged. The company originally committed to providing minimum download speeds of 150 megabits per second. But it is now promising speeds of 500mbps once the network is live.