Eir shares the goal of broadband for everyone, everywhere and we remain firmly committed to supporting the National Broadband Plan (NBP). Last week at an Oireachtas Committee I was asked about value for money in the NBP and how much we believed it would cost to deliver high-speed rural broadband.
That we feel it can be done far cheaper than is currently planned should have surprised nobody. Eir warned about unnecessary costs and complexity for almost two years while we were in the process, in a letter to the Minister when we left, and in media interviews and at the Public Accounts Committee since. I hope an explanation of our approach will ultimately help lead to a more cost-effective outcome for the taxpayer without compromising the service to the end user.
We would use the expertise Eir has gained over the past three years rolling out fibre at pace and scale in rural Ireland, passing 340,000 rural premises later this summer
Eir was a bidder in the NBP process until January 2018, when we took the difficult decision to leave after repeatedly raising concerns, which went beyond the size of any subsidy. We felt that the NBP demanded service levels and a connection regime that were unnecessary and more onerous than those in the rest of the country.
While we fully believe everyone in rural Ireland should have access to high-speed broadband, we don't believe it needs to be better than that available in our towns, cities and the rest of rural Ireland when that leads to substantial and excessive cost to the State.
Pace and scale
For €1 billion we could build a network which would pass all the rural premises in the NBP with high-speed broadband and connect all those who want it to their broadband provider of choice.
We would use Eir’s existing infrastructure, rather than building over it like National Broadband Ireland has chosen to do. Most significantly we would use the expertise Eir has gained over the past three years rolling out fibre at pace and scale in rural Ireland, passing 340,000 rural premises later this summer (more than 70 per cent of the number of rural premises in the NBP).
We have worked closely with the Department of Communications during this rollout, and the systems and processes required for the delivery of a project with close government oversight are already in place.
The vast majority of homes in rural Ireland already have an Eir connection and we would reuse the existing overhead or underground plant where available
Unlike other bidders for the NBP, Eir is a highly regulated company and customers on this network would receive the exact same level of service, reliability and prices as those already on our rural fibre broadband network. The cost to retail operators for a connection would be €170, the same as in the rest of the country (as compared to €100 under the NBP).
It would be up to the retail operator whether or not to pass on the charge to the home or business owner. The monthly wholesale subscription cost would also be the same as on Eir’s network elsewhere in the country. Eir’s prices are already scrutinised by ComReg and we charge the same prices to customers across the country, whether in rural or urban areas. This would continue were Eir to roll out fibre across rural Ireland.
The vast majority of homes in rural Ireland already have an Eir connection and we would reuse the existing overhead or underground plant where available. This would deliver affordable connections to customers across rural Ireland but be cheaper than the NBP approach because it reuses existing infrastructure rather than building new connections.
It is a fair approach, with virtually all customers accessing at the standard connection rate if they are willing to use poles but paying extra if they would like to use more expensive ducting. For a very small number of premises, nowhere near the speculated 81,000, there may be a higher charge where no Eir connection exists and a home is hundreds of metres from the curtilage. This is the same approach as the NBP, which will look for contributions for the most expensive connections.
Quite simply, we are the experts in rolling out rural broadband as we have delivered to more than 300,000 rural premises to date, with no public subsidy and at a cost to Eir of more than €250 million. We know exactly how to connect the remaining rural premises in the NBP at a reasonable cost to the State, and we feel that we had to share that expertise with the Oireachtas Committee when asked to do so.
Carolan Lennon is chief executive of Eir