Naughten aimed to name broadband plan preferred bidder by September

Former minister told Eir of intended time frame in May meeting, documents show

At a meeting with Eir’s chief executive and chairman, then minister for communications  Denis Naughten welcomed the acquisition of Eir by French telecommunications conglomerate NJJ. Photograph: Gareth Chaney Collins

At a meeting with Eir’s chief executive and chairman, then minister for communications Denis Naughten welcomed the acquisition of Eir by French telecommunications conglomerate NJJ. Photograph: Gareth Chaney Collins

 

Former minister for communications Denis Naughten intended to have a preferred bidder in place for the national broadband plan (NBP) by September, documents obtained by The Irish Times show.

Mr Naughten, who resigned from the Government earlier this month, met Eir executives in May. The telco had withdrawn from its NBP bid in January, but it is expected any winning bid will need to use Eir’s infrastructure to deliver the service. Central to the negotiations throughout the process has been how much Eir would charge the winning bidder to use its infrastructure.

A briefing note created in advance of the May meeting show the then minister wanted to confirm the Government’s commitment to the NBP and “reiterate how important Eir is to achieving a preferred bidder by September”.

At the meeting with Eir chief executive Carolan Lennon and chairman David McRedmond, Mr Naughten also welcomed the acquisition of Eir by French telecommunications conglomerate NJJ.

“He indicated the positivity for the telecommunications sector in Ireland that a telecoms company is leading Eir for the first time in a long period,” a note of the meeting said.

Finer details of the NBP were also discussed at the meeting, including Enet’s access to Eir’s infrastructure.

“The department indicated that it understood that Enet had submitted its commercial package to Eir to ensure that Eir’s infrastructure would be ready and accessible for NBP deployment in line with Enet’s obligations under the NBP contract. Eir were also reminded of [the] critical importance of the timely establishment of legal ‘heads of terms’ to be agreed between the parties in order that NBP deployment can commence in the shortest timeframe following contract award,” the note of the meeting said.

Consortium

Enet previously fronted the last remaining consortium bidding for the NBP. That consortium is now led by Granahan McCourt and includes Nokia, Actavo, the Kelly Group, the KN Group and Enet. The consortium confirmed access to Eir’s rural pole and duct network which will allow them complete their physical bid.

Mr Naughten resigned on October 11th as a result of a number of meetings with David McCourt, the chief executive of Granahan McCourt.

A report on the NBP was subsequently ordered by Taoiseach Leo Varadkar to assess whether the plan, which aims to make high-speed broadband available to some 540,000 unconnected rural properties, had been “compromised”.

The NBP, first announced in 2012, promised to provide “next generation broadband to every home and business in the State” through a combination of commercial and State investment. It emerged this week that the plan could cost more than €3 billion, with Department of Communications officials working on a “plan B” in the event of the process collapsing.

Earlier this year, Eir pulled out of the running citing “repeatedly highlighted” commercial, regulatory and governance issues. A consortium comprised of ESB and Vodafone also removed itself from the process.

Despite Eir’s absence from the process, Mr Naughten said in May that the company “still has a major part to play in the delivery of the NBP”.