Bruton says broadband technology and cost being assessed at ‘granular level’

Minister insists decision made will be on basis of robust technology at ’appropriate cost’

 

Minister for Communications Richard Bruton has assured the Dáil that the Government will not proceed with the national broadband plan just because it would be too difficult to start again.

They were rigorously assessing the technology and the cost “at a hugely granular level”.

The Minister said they were taking the time to ensure the technology is robust and the proper governance was in place with the “checks and balances in the contract that protect the taxpayer and potential users”.

He said that “whatever decision is taken, will be taken on the grounds that this is in the best interests of delivering the sort of service at a technology that’s robust at an appropriate cost”.

Mr Bruton quoted the Shakespearean tragedy Macbeth to underscore his assurance that the decision taken would be for the right reason and cost.

“I understand that people are rightly wanting assurance and I can give the assurance that we’ll not just be pushing ahead because to start again would be as Shakespeare said ‘to return were more difficult than go o’er’”.

The Minister was responding to Social Democrats TD Catherine Murphy who warned him not to proceed with the national broadband plan just because it is too far along with a flawed process to turn back and get it right.

The Kildare introduced a private member’s motion in the wake of the controversy over the withdrawal of all bar one bidder in the tender process to provide broadband to homes and businesses in rural areas and the resignation of his predecessor over his contacts with the head of the remaining consortium.

She compared the process with the trebling of costs for the national children’s hospital from €650 million to €1.7 billion and warned that the national broadband plan could become a similar financial burden.

Ms Murphy said that on some projects “it’s like as if we’re spending monopoly money not the people’s real money and we’ve got to be prudent about the process”.

Ms Murphy said that “if getting it right means there’s a delay in the process well that is far preferable than ploughing ahead only to find ourselves a year or two down the road hand wringing as we’re currently doing with the national children’s hospital and wondering where it all went so badly wrong in terms of costs”.

The exchequer could end up picking up the cost of very large subsidies, she said.

The motion called for the Minister to give an “immediate update” on the broadband plan, and to confirm he and his department “have been satisfied as to the competitiveness of a process with only one bidder”.

Mr Bruton said the Government’s objective was to have next generation broadband for every house and business and it involved 100 per cent reach and for the same price in rural areas as in urban locations.

As there was only the one bidder “we have had to take a lot more due diligence and care”.

The commercial areas had carved out their areas and the State would provide for the remaining “amber” area which although it contained only 23 per cent of the population it covered 96 per cent of the landmass.