New homes may be required to have high-speed broadband capability

Government officials want to make cabling mandatory to obtain planning permission

New homes may be required to have high-speed broadband cabling installed in order to gain planning approval under plans being advanced by Government.

Officials from the Department of Communications have written to the Oireachtas committee on communications to say they want to make it mandatory that ducting needed for high-speed broadband be included in order for planning permission to be obtained.

This would apply to homes being built in the areas where the State is intervening to provide broadband services.

A spokesman for the department pointed towards a European directive on cost reduction which sets out measures to reduce the cost of deploying high-speed electronic communications networks.

“The directive includes provisions for member states to implement planning requirements for new homes. In that regard, the Department of Communications is actively pursuing the effective implementation of the relevant provisions of [the directive], consulting with the Department of Housing, Planning and Local Government as appropriate,” he said.

The committee has also received commitments from David McCourt, the ultimate controlling party of preferred bidder National Broadband Ireland, that the company has no plans to sell off the project. Mr McCourt turned down an invitation to appear before the committee last month, but in response to written questions sent by the committee, his company Granahan McCourt said it "can confirm that there are no plans to sell NBI or its parent companies".

Asset ownership

Separately, it has emerged legal advice provided to the department indicates there would be “significant legal risk attached to changing the ownership model, including to one where the State retains ownership of the assets during an ongoing procurement process”.

The Oireachtas committee asked for information around what the value of the network would be at the end of the contract.

Despite paying the bulk of the cost – €3 billion – the Government will not own the network once it is built. Typically in public-private partnerships, the asset reverts to the State after the contract runs out.

In a submission to the committee, Green Party leader Eamon Ryan said ownership should be retained by the State at the end of the intervention period. Based on his calculations, the final value of the asset to the bidder could be about €455 million.

“As the State will be providing the vast majority of the capital to pay for the development of this asset it is hard to justify why the ownership should not in the end revert to the State,” Mr Ryan wrote.

‘Monopoly asset’

“There is a risk under the current model that the regulated asset will become a target for acquisition and disposal, as has happened with other regulated telecommunications assets, to the detriment of proper long-term investment and planning of the asset. We are in the end creating a private monopoly asset which would work just as well if not better under public ownership,” Mr Ryan wrote.

In a separate submission to the committee, Fianna Fáil called on the Government to commission an external, independent review on whether its broadband plans were the only viable option.

“Fianna Fáil recommends the appointment of an independent expert with international experience to establish within three months whether there is a legal pathway to achieving the objectives of the National Broadband Plan through a universal service obligation. Such an approach could provide considerable savings in both time and money.”

The Oireachtas committee is due to finalise a report on the issue at the end of the month which will then be given to Government.

Jennifer Bray

Jennifer Bray

Jennifer Bray is a Political Correspondent with The Irish Times

Jack Horgan-Jones

Jack Horgan-Jones

Jack Horgan-Jones is a political reporter with The Irish Times