Private ownership of national broadband network ‘unfair’

Oireachtas committee report raises concerns about multibillion-euro roll-out

The Government is going ahead with the broadband project despite the advice of some who caution the €3 billion programme does not represent good value.

The Government is going ahead with the broadband project despite the advice of some who caution the €3 billion programme does not represent good value.

 

A draft Oireachtas committee report into the national broadband plan has said it is “unfair” the network will be owned by a private investor despite a multibillion-euro investment by the State.

The cross-party Oireachtas Committee on Communications is in the process of compiling a report into the controversial broadband plan, and met on Wednesday to formulate a number of recommendations on how to proceed with the project.

Sources at the meeting said it had been decided that a vote would be held on August 20th on a contentious proposal from Fianna Fáil to recommend that the Government commission an external, independent review around the project’s viability.

A draft version of the report, seen by The Irish Times, also raises concerns around the governance of the broadband plan and the length of time the rollout of the network will take.

It emerged earlier this year that the Government was going ahead with the project despite the advice of some senior officials who cautioned that the €3 billion programme did not represent good value for money.

State subsidy

“The joint committee is concerned that, given the amount of the State subsidy for the project is much greater than the initial outlay from the investor, it appears unfair that the resulting network will be owned by the investor rather than the State. This could create the impression that the State is largely paying for the construction of an asset which will be owned by private interests,” the report states.

Concerns were also raised about why only one member of the board of the National Broadband Ireland company would be appointed by the Minister, while eight would be appointed by the investors.

The report says the Department of Communications has stated “that the sole responsibility of the board is to deliver the NBI contract” and that it will report to the department regularly.

Consortium’s interests

Despite this, “the joint committee is unclear as to how that responsibility will safeguard against the board being more concerned with the interests of the consortium, who appoints the bulk of the members, above the State’s interest”.

The length of time it will take to roll out the new network is also raised in the document.

In the preface, the committee chair and Fine Gael TD Hildegarde Naughten said the committee felt it had “no option” but to investigate these issues before the final contract was awarded and said that it was “vital” the Government “get this process right and at the same time not delay the process unduly”. The report is due to be finalised at the end of the month.

Documents released earlier this year showed that Department of Public Expenditure officials also suggested the State was investing most of the money and assuming most of the risk, while a private company would garner many of the benefits.