In a liberalised market, it is a matter in the first instance for the market players to provide telecommunications and broadband services. Recognising, however, that the pace of high speed broadband rollout to the regions was not sufficient to attain the Government's national broadband goals as set out in New Connections and in its broadband strategy, in March 2002, the then Minister announced the regional metropolitan area network programme. Against the backdrop of this concern, later in 2002, Forfás and the Department of the Taoiseach engaged SJS Consulting Incorporated to review that programme and the policy options for national broadband rollout generally.
As part of this process, the consultants held discussions with my Department, Eircom and other service providers. Officials from my Department met Eircom representatives on a number of occasions to discuss the options put forward by the consultants. The consultants and officials from my Department also met other market players and a number of public consultations under the aegis of IBEC's telecoms and Internet federation and Forfás were also held.
Negotiations were not entered into with Eircom or any other party at any stage. At no stage were terms such as those postulated in The Sunday Business Post article on offer nor did the Government offer to fund Eircom directly or indirectly through subsidised loans, tax breaks or any other means. This has also been publicly confirmed by Eircom.
The Government at the time was dissatisfied with the speed of broadband rollout and decided to intervene with a view to bringing forward proposals to address this problem. Government policy is that it favours investment in open access infrastructure which all operators have access to on similar transparent terms. That is the idea behind the Government's open access metropolitan area network programme, which is rolling out high speed broadband infrastructure to all 120 towns and cities regionally.
The Sunday Business Post article of 31 October last to which the Deputy refers, contends, inter alia, that the Government offered Eircom a €1.8 billion deal to roll out broadband nationally. It also contends that Eircom was offered a range of incentives such as tax breaks, subsidised loans, amendments to the building regulations and price increases as "carrots". These claims are untrue.
Consultancy advice contained in a report to a Government subcommittee, agency or a Department should not be misconstrued as Government policy. The telecommunications market is a regulated market and, thus, action by Government has to be consonant with national and EU regulation. Accordingly, the Government is not in the business of entering exclusive contracts of the kind inferred by the article with any market entities.