State’s largest telcos to reveal why they shunned broadband plan

Companies are to explain their difficulties with the process to Public Accounts Committee

Building telecoms infrastructure in rural parts is proving a headache for governments across the world, principally because the technology and the demand it spawns keeps evolving.

Building telecoms infrastructure in rural parts is proving a headache for governments across the world, principally because the technology and the demand it spawns keeps evolving.

 

The State’s largest telcos will appear before the Public Accounts Committee on Thursday to explain why they have shunned the National Broadband Plan (NBP) and whether they think the plan, in its current form, can work.

The State-back scheme to bring high-speed broadband to 540,000 rural homes and businesses has been delayed several times and mired in controversy from the start.

The procurement process elicited just one bid, from US investment firm Granahan McCourt, which the Government has been mulling over for several months.

Unhappy

Minister for Communications Richard Bruton is said to be unhappy with the price being tendered by Granahan McCourt and is worried about announcing another State project with a hefty price tag given the current furore over the national children’s hospital.

He is due to bring his decision on the tender before Cabinet in the coming weeks.

PAC chairman Seán Fleming, meanwhile, has invited representatives from Eir, Siro, Imagine, BT Ireland and Enet to appear before the committee on Thursday.

In a letter, seen by The Irish Times, he requested the companies to outline their involvement with the NBP process and their reasons for “non-involvement or discontinued involvement”.

After spending millions of euros on their bids, both Eir and ESB-Vodafone-backed Siro resigned from the process, suggesting there was no longer a business case for their company’s continued involvement.

Enet, which initially spearheaded the Granahan McCourt bid, has been downgraded to the role of supplier.

And more recently SSE and John Laing, heavyweights of the UK telecoms industry and formerly part of the Granahan McCourt bid, also left the process.

The committee is expected to asked the companies to detail, as they see it, “the administrative/bureaucratic challenges” posed by the Government’s plan as well as the financial and operational challenges.

Scheme

Building telecoms infrastructure in rural parts is proving a headache for governments across the world, principally because the technology and the demand it spawns keeps evolving.

Eir chief executive Carolan Lennon said she expected the NBP scheme to take five to seven years to complete, which is significantly longer than previously thought, because of the complexity of the tender and “the challenge of building in rural Ireland”.

This could stretch out the timeline for delivery to 2026. The Government has previously signalled that the last homes would be connected by 2022.

Although Mr Bruton has previously said there is “no question of a plan B”, senior officials are understood to be discussing the possibility of an alternative approach.