Broadband network should not be owned by ‘minority investor’

Oireachtas group critical of Government reluctance to identify flawed tendering process

The committee will call on the Government to ‘examine the best model’ for delivery of a new national broadband plan through the ESB. File photograph: Getty

The committee will call on the Government to ‘examine the best model’ for delivery of a new national broadband plan through the ESB. File photograph: Getty

 

There is “no justification” for the new broadband network to be owned by a “minority investor” instead of the State, an Oireachtas committee report due to be released today has found.

The Oireachtas committee on communications has compiled a report into the €3 billion national broadband plan and found that the Government has shown a “reluctance” to recognise early failures in the tendering process associated with the project.

The report says the Department of Communications gave “inconsistent” evidence during committee hearings and will recommend an external, independent three-month review of the project.

The committee will also recommend that the Comptroller and Auditor General should have a role identifying cost overruns in large infrastructure projects.

The committee investigated a 2017 Government deal with Eir to remove 300,000 homes from the national broadband plan, leaving 540,000 for the State-subsidised scheme. The report says this added to the final cost of the project.

“The loss of revenue from the 300,000 homes served by Eir and taken out of the intervention area, was not a ‘cost’ but caused the subsidy to increase.”

Other factors in the cost increases were the decision to construct parallel fibre infrastructure to that of Eir and an incorrect estimate about the mix of overhead and underground infrastructure required.

Call to re-engage with the ESB

As previously reported by The Irish Times, the committee calls for the network to be kept in public ownership.

“The committee notes that, notwithstanding timeline complications, the broadband network infrastructure should be under the ownership of the State as it is strategically important to the State. There is no justification for the resulting network to be owned by the minority investor instead of the majority investor, which is the State,” notes the report.

The document also calls for the plan to be further revised so that the full cost of providing a connection for every new house to the broadband network is provided for in the planning conditions for the construction of a new house.

The report also calls on the Government to re-engage with the ESB to “examine the best model for delivery of a new National Broadband Plan through the ESB”.

Senior Fine Gael members previously said that they were “disappointed” by the report. Committee chairwoman and Fine Gael TD Hildegarde Naughten attempted to have a recommendation included in the report that the contracts be signed as soon as possible, but other members voted against the proposal.