Vodafone furious after IFA backs Eir’s broadband plan bid

UK company that has supplied IFA Telecom is competing with Eir for State contract

According to industry sources, Vodafone was angered by the timing of the Irish Farmers’ Association’s decision to back Eir’s bid for the National Broadband Plan. Photograph: Alan Betson

According to industry sources, Vodafone was angered by the timing of the Irish Farmers’ Association’s decision to back Eir’s bid for the National Broadband Plan. Photograph: Alan Betson

 

Vodafone is understood to be furious at the decision of the Irish Farmers’ Association (IFA) to back Eir’s bid for the National Broadband Plan (NBP).

The UK telecoms firm is competing with Eir for the Government’s broadband tender through Siro, its joint venture with the Electricity Supply Board.

At the National Ploughing Championships last week, the IFA and Eir announced a strategic tie-up which will see the farmers’ group assist the former State telco in its bid for the NBP and the take up of new services. The commercial terms of the partnership have not been disclosed.

According to industry sources, Vodafone was angered by the timing of the announcement, which comes in the middle of the tender process, and because of the company’s long-standing commercial relationship with the IFA.

Vodafone Ireland has supplied the IFA’s telecommunications arm, IFA Telecom, with mobile phone services for the past seven years.

The company declined to comment.

Lock horns

Tensions between Vodafone and Eir have ratcheted up in recent months as the two lock horns over the Government’s tender.

The IFA’s endorsement represents something of a coup for Eir with broadband coverage now a major issue in rural Ireland.

More than 80,000 farms, 94 per cent of the total, are located in a broadband black spot of one description or another.

The Government’s scheme aims to address the issue by building two high-speed networks, potentially connecting up to 927,000 homes.

In a statement, Siro said it shared the Government’s ambition to reverse the current “digital divide”.

It said rural Ireland had been poorly served by fixed-line telecommunications over the past 15 years with more than a quarter of fixed broadband connections still left with download speeds of less than 10 megabits per second (mbps) – the NBP insists on a minimum speed of 30 mbps.

“If Siro is awarded the NBP, our entire focus will be the successful delivery and consumer adoption of the programme. This will involve working closely with Government, local authorities and the many groups including the IFA,” the company said.

Raise awareness

Eir, meanwhile, said it was deploying the largest telecommunications infrastructure programme in the country, which would cover 1.9 million homes and businesses, including 300,000 already earmarked for the NBP.

“We are delighted to work with the IFA, as a voice for rural Ireland, to help us raise awareness and encourage take up of broadband as our network rollout expands,” it said.

The Department of Communications, which declined to comment on the Eir/IFA partnership, is currently in a competitive dialogue with the three shortlisted bidders, Eir, Siro and Enet prior to the final contract terms being nailed down.

The IFA also declined to comment but president Joe Healy said last week that access to high-speed broadband was critical for farm families in running their farm businesses.