Government to publish broadband contract nine months after controversial deal

Department says it will publish redacted version of €3bn contract in coming weeks

 

A redacted version of the €3 billion National Broadband Plan (NBP) contract is to be published on the Department of Communications website shortly, some nine months after the Government signed off on the controversial agreement.

Despite a promise by then minister for communications Richard Bruton to Catherine Murphy TD to publish the contract weeks after it was first signed last November, the Department of Communications has to date held back from issuing details of the deal.

A spokesman said it intended to publish a redacted version “in the coming weeks”.

“The National Broadband Plan contract is a complex document which comprises over 3,000 pages encompassing a large number of schedules. Given the commercial nature of the document, the department has engaged with National Broadband Ireland (NBI)to agree a suitably redacted version of the contract for publication,” the spokesman said.

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.

The contract will provide greater detail on the legal provisions, financial clawbacks and monopoly-busting caveats the Government has set down in the contract. If the project costs are lower, the contract contains a provision for the State to claw back the excess.

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 hit by the Covid-19 pandemic .

Department officials said Covid-19 has affected delivery in several areas, including the efficiency of the design process, the onboarding of retail service providers and availability of accomodation for contractors.

They said by mid-June design work was complete or ongoing in Cork, Galway, Wexford, Westmeath, Cavan, Limerick, Kerry, Monaghan, Roscommon, Louth, Wicklow, Carlow and Tipperary.

The briefing document also reveals 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 only be drawn down in specific circumstances.

Granahan McCourt recently exited a similar tender to roll out broadband to rural parts of Northern Ireland after missing the deadline, leaving just two bidders for Project Stratum, Northern Ireland’s £165 million (€184 million) rural broadband project.