Broadband tender process has ‘absolutely failed’ – Fianna Fáil

Government plans to go ahead with € 3bn broadband plan despite cost warnings

Fianna Fáil TD, Timmy Dooley: “The tender process  the State put in place to identify a bidder that would provide a service and value for money for the State has absolutely failed.” Photograph: iStock

Fianna Fáil TD, Timmy Dooley: “The tender process the State put in place to identify a bidder that would provide a service and value for money for the State has absolutely failed.” Photograph: iStock

 

Fianna Fáil’s Communications spokesperson Timmy Dooley says the tender process for the National Broadband Plan has “absolutely failed”.

His comments come after it emerged the Government plans to approve the national broadband plan despite the advice of some senior officials who cautioned that the € 3 billion programme did not represent good value for money.

Speaking to Newstalk Breakfast, Mr Dooley said he is calling for more engagement with the other bidders who pulled out earlier in the broadband plan tender process.

“It now clearly points out that the tender process that the State put in place to identify a bidder that would provide a service and value for money for the State has absolutely failed,” he told Newstalk Breakfast.

“It failed around 18 months ago, when two of the main competitors pulled out of the race. It was clear at that stage that there was only going to be one outcome.”

According to sources familiar with the discussions surrounding the plan, the Cabinet is likely to be asked the week after next to sign off on the plan to provide high-speed broadband to all rural areas not served by commercial operators.

The Government will then embark on a major publicity drive to sell the plan, with rural-based Ministers taking a lead role.

High-ranking sources say the decision was at least as much political as it was technocratic.

Fears

Ministers and senior officials feared that the costs of the plan – which was originally tagged to cost €500 million but is now expected to require an investment of €3 billion from taxpayers – would explode into a public and political controversy, especially after recent revelations of escalating costs at the national children’s hospital.

However, they were also fearful that a decision to shelve the project or even to recommence it with an eye to reducing costs would cause outrage in rural Ireland in advance of the local and European elections next month.

Ministers are also said to have been convinced to back the current project because any alternative was also likely to have proven very expensive.

However, some senior officials in the finance and public expenditure departments are believed to have advised that the project represented poor value for money. Officials in the Department of Communications strongly favoured going ahead with the programme.

However, even senior sources who say they favour going ahead with the broadband plan concede there are drawbacks, even if the ballooning costs – which Ministers will stress are spread out over 25-30 years – are accepted.

Plan

The plan aims to bring high-speed internet to more than 500,000 homes and businesses awaiting access to broadband across the country. The last remaining bidder is a consortium led by US businessman David McCourt.

One aspect of the plan likely to be criticised is that the State will not own the network once it is built. In addition, there is significant doubt over the likely take-up of broadband services in remote rural areas even after households have been connected to fibre-optic cable.

Mr Dooley added, “I think it was unwise for the past 18 months to continue with the process without engaging with the two major players that pulled out.

“To the best of my knowledge there has been no serious engagement with either the ESB, Vodafone or Eir – I think that was a fundamental mistake on behalf of the Government and its agents.

“I still don’t think it’s too late for a detailed engagement with the ESB in particular.”

Taking account

Meanwhile, Minister for Finance Paschal Donohoe said he has received a “lot of different views” on the €3 billion National Broadband Plan that is set to be announced in the coming weeks.

Mr Donohoe said he will “be taking account of all of the advice that is given to me in relation to the National Broadband Plan”.

“It has gone through a very very extensive debate and process within my own government and with the Department of Communications,” he told reporters on Friday.

“No recommendation has been taken to government yet with it but that will be happening, I believe, soon and I’ll be taking account of all the advice and views on that matter when I give my views on it.

“I have got a lot of different views in relation to this project but I think the imperative thing is that we allow the work that is underway in relation to the broadband plan to come to conclusion. “That will he happening and then the Cabinet will be briefed on all of the different issues in relation to it and all of the different opportunities in relation to it

“This is a plan that has gone now through a very extensive tendering process.

“We are now aware of many of the different costs and complexities that are involved in relation to a project of this scale and because of this, Cabinet will be well informed and well placed to make a good decision on what is a really important investment in our country’s future.”