Committee to recommend State oversight of broadband board

Currently investors are set to appoint majority of board of National Broadband Ireland

Photograph: iStock

Photograph: iStock

 

An Oireachtas committee is to recommend that a majority of the directors of the company set to supply broadband to hundreds of thousands of rural homes should be appointed by the State.

The Oireachtas Committee on Communications is to meet on August 20th to finalise a report on the controversial €3 billion project and will make a series of recommendations, including far greater oversight by the State.

Under current plans, only one member of the board of the National Broadband Ireland company will be appointed by the Minister for Communications, while eight will be appointed by the investors. However, Sinn Féin TD David Cullinane believes the State should appoint the majority.

Mr Cullinane is also pushing for the report to state that “private sector risk in this project is practically non-existent, undermining the rationale for the design of the tender”.

Fianna Fáil TD Timmy Dooley has tabled amendments complaining that the State will be left with the majority of the risk while the private operator “will recoup its money within seven to eight years” and will face very little risk afterwards.

No alternative

However, Fine Gael TD Hildegarde Naugthon, who chairs the committee, says the contract should be signed quickly, saying that no evidence exists that a “reliable, cheaper or practical alternative” to the National Broadband Plan exists.

“It is the view of the committee that contracts should be signed, subject to due diligence and the buildout of rural broadband commence as soon as possible. This is essential to the future of rural Ireland and to achieving balanced regional development.”

The claims made by Eir that it could deliver services for €1 billion are “unproven”, said Mr Cullinane, but he noted that neither the ESB, nor SIRO – both one-time contenders for the contract – believe that the contract could be delivered with a subsidy of €1 billion or less.

Meanwhile, Fianna Fáil TD James Lawless is calling on the Government to accept his Bill which would make it mandatory for all future planning permissions to include ducting or cable to the door of the home. The Department of Communications recently said it is examining a similar measure.

The Planning and Development (Rapid Broadband) Bill would also require all new roads projects to include laying of ducting as standard, as well as a requirement for public bodies to make their assets available to host broadband infrastructure.