Government holds broadband course despite State ownership vote

‘We are not so much selling the family silver as paying someone to take it off our hands’

The Dáil voted by 87 to 50 to retain the network in State ownership.

The Dáil voted by 87 to 50 to retain the network in State ownership.

 

Final due diligence on the contract for the National Broadband Plan continues despite the Dáil voting by 87 to 50 to retain the network in State ownership.

Minister for Communications Richard Bruton warned TDs during a debate on a Labour motion to retain the network in State ownership that their choice would push the whole process back to the start.

But Labour TD Sean Sherlock who introduced the motion said of the proposed Government contract “we are not so much as selling the family silver as paying someone to take it off our hands”.

He added that “generations to come will wonder at the ineptitude of handing over such a strategic asset to the private sector”.

The proposed deal will provide high-speed broadband to homes and businesses in remote areas. The contract will last for 25 years after which the operator will own the network.

But Mr Sherlock said that if the Government was giving nearly €3 billion to a private monopoly then “such a network should be owned by the State”.

And he asked why the Government was committing “to hand over a network we will pay for, where the risk has been all but removed, to a private operator”.

The Minister said TDs had a choice. “Either we decide we will provide national broadband and give rural Ireland access to this asset or we say there will be another report, another assessment and start from scratch all over again,” he said.

Sharp exchange

A Government source said on Thursday night that final due diligence would continue because “what the deputies are calling for would mean abandoning broadband and rural Ireland for at least five years”.

Mr Bruton said the State had to rent 1.5 million poles and 15,000km of duct. “We need a company to string fibre along that private network in order to reach those who would otherwise not be reached. That is the reality.”

But Michael Fitzmaurice said people were fed up hearing about broadband. He said it was about the 20th debate on the issue and after the vote “damn all” would happen.

“We will not have broadband this Christmas or probably next Christmas because the will does not seem to be there.”

He said that if the Government “is going to sign a contract it should get on and do it and if not, it should come out and say so and let us go to the polls and face the people”.

Minister of for Digital Development State Sean Canney said he hoped the contract would be signed “before the end of the year”.