FF seeks independent review of broadband plan after Eir’s exit

Party says departure of State’s largest telco had compromised tendering process

Minister for Communications Denis Naughten announcing details of the National Broadband Plan last April. Photograph: Cyril Byrne

Minister for Communications Denis Naughten announcing details of the National Broadband Plan last April. Photograph: Cyril Byrne

 

Fianna Fáil is calling for an independent review of the Government’s broadband procurement process following Eir’s surprise decision to quit the process last week.

The party said the departure of the State’s largest telecoms firm, which leaves just one bidder in the race, had compromised the tendering process and raised serious doubts over whether the plan, as currently designed, could be delivered.

It has tabled a Dáil Private Members’ motion calling for a review of the process, to be concluded within two months, which would examine several aspects of the tender, including the degree to which it is “inhibiting the participation of suitable bidders”.

Minister for Communications Denis Naughten, however, said he would face down the request from the opposition party and that such a process would in any case only delay the roll-out of the National Broadband Plan (NBP).

He is to inform Cabinet that there is “no way” Fianna Fáil’s proposal, which is likely to get the backing of Sinn Féin, should be accepted.

Eir’s withdrawal, which follows the exit of ESB/Vodafone joint venture Siro last year, has led to fears that the Government’s plan to bring high-speed broadband to 542,000 homes in rural Ireland will cost significantly more than previously anticipated and take longer to complete.

Mr Naughten will stress the tendering process is already examined by the European Union and other international experts on a monthly basis.

Waste resources

Facilitating a review will waste significant resources that should be focused on the roll-out of the scheme, the Minister will say.

However, Fianna Fáil communications spokesman Timmy Dooley said the Minister was “ploughing ahead” despite the fact that three of the biggest infrastructural companies and telcos in the State had registered serious concerns about the commercial viability of the project.

“I think that’s foolhardy. When you realise what you’re doing is not working it requires you to stop, take stock of where you’re at, and take advice,” he said.

Eir’s decision to pull out leaves just one remaining bidder – the consortium led by telecoms firm Enet and energy group SSE – in what was supposed to be a competitive tender.

Any marketplace that has only one bidder signals trouble, Mr Dooley said. “It certainly signals you’re not going to get value for money,” he said.

Fianna Fáil’s review will also examine whether the NBP is future-proofed to meet Ireland’s future societal and economic needs.

Sinn Féin said it would support the motion, meaning it is likely to be passed in the Dáil, and hoped to add an amendment of its own, calling for the review to consider why the ESB’s considerable infrastructure should not be used as part of the plan.