Price tag touted for National Broadband Plan could be PR spinning

Indicative €6,000 per connection suggests effort to tarnish image of rural rollout plan

The National Broadband Plan (NBP) was a wounded animal before we heard last month that the project might cost a whopping €3 billion, twice the original estimate.

The figure tumbled out of Leinster House in the wake of former minister for communications Denis Naughten's resignation over his contacts with the lead bidder, the latest controversy to dog the project.

It breaks down at close to €6,000 per broadband connection, six or seven times what commercial fibre-to-the-home (FTTH) operators would typically budget for in towns and cities.

It also presupposes that every single one of the 542,000 homes in the project, even the most isolated cottage located 30kms inside the Bog of Allen, would receive a pure fibre connection, in industry terms “the Rolls-Royce solution”.

The fact that this was never likely to be case has led to speculation that somebody, somewhere, is spinning against the Government’s flagship communications project.

Tidy rent

One school of thought is that it might be Eir, the market incumbent, which already receives a tidy rent from the existing copper connections in rural Ireland and stands to lose out if the new infrastructure ever gets built.

But the company has cleverly insulated itself against a major financial loss by “doughnutting” rural towns and villages with its own technology. This means that the NBP contract winner will have to traverse Eir’s infrastructure to get at the homes in question, paying the former semi-State millions in rent in the process.

Alternatively, the €3 billion figure might have been dropped into the narrative by someone inside Government, presumably to dampen expectations that the increasingly controversial project will ever be completed. This is a dangerous game to play given the anger in rural Ireland over a lack of action on broadband.

But it is not unheard of for elements of the Civil Service to brief against Government plans, and, after several controversies, it’s not hard to imagine that some officials may now be questioning whether the scheme, as currently constituted, is viable.