State-backed firm wins State’s big broadband contract

Cantillon: Ireland’s broadband policy’s route circutious as Enet set for victory in tender

Drawn-out tender process reflects a public administration that repeatedly fails to see the lay of the land. Photograph: Rui Vieira/PA Wire

Drawn-out tender process reflects a public administration that repeatedly fails to see the lay of the land. Photograph: Rui Vieira/PA Wire

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It’s a tad ironic that after the longest and most complex of tender processes, the Government’s most ambitious communications project will be undertaken by a firm that is itself State-backed.

Barring disasters, telecoms provider Enet, as the sole remaining bidder, will be crowned victor in the Government’s broadband race come September and will begin connecting rural homes and businesses – there are 542,000 – early next year.

The teclo is 78 per cent owned by the Irish Infrastructure Fund, which is backed by the State to the tune of €250 million via the Ireland Strategic Investment Fund.

The circular nature of Ireland’s telecoms investment stems back to the government’s, now infamous, decision to privatise Telecom Éireann, now Eir, back in the 1990s, which resulted in nearly two decades of underinvestment in telecoms infrastructure, and a series of partly successful state interventions, the latest iteration of which is the National Broadband Plan (NBP).

Undersea cable

Before NBP, we had the Global Crossing project, which connected Ireland directly to the US and European internet via undersea fibre optic cable, which cost €125 million. Then came the State’s Metropolitan Area Networks (Mans), a series of telecommunications networks built around 94 towns, costing €200 million, which Enet operates.

There was also the National Broadband Scheme, the current plan’s direct predecessor, which cost €80 million, but was practically obsolete before completion.

The NBP promises to – once and for all – bridge the two-tier nature of the telecoms here, ending the urban/rural divide and bringing Ireland more in line with its chosen image as a great little tech hub.

The circutious route to this point, illustrated by one of the longest tenders in State history, is a reflection of many things, but none more so than a public administration that repeatedly fails to see the lay of the land, predict the State’s future needs and/or work out a means of addressing them.

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