The Government's National Broadband Plan (NBP) aims to ensure high speed broadband access (minimum 30 megabits per second) to all premises in Ireland, regardless of location. The NBP has been a catalyst in encouraging investment by the telecoms sector. Today 7 out of 10 of the 2.3 million premises in Ireland have access to high speed broadband. By the end of this year that number will rise to nearly 8 out of 10 premises and by 2020, 9 out of 10 premises or 90% of premises will have access to a high speed broadband service. This will be achieved via a combination of commercial investment and a State led intervention.
My Department is in a formal procurement process to select a company who will roll-out a new high speed broadband network in the State intervention area. One company, eir, publicly withdrew from the procurement process last month. The specialist NBP procurement team will continue to engage intensively with all relevant stakeholders, including the sse/enet consortium, to ensure the earliest possible achievement of the Government’s objective of providing reliable high quality, high speed broadband to all premises in Ireland.
The procurement process, which is a very robust process with strong risk management throughout, reached an advanced stage prior to eir’s withdrawal. “Detailed Solutions” submitted by two bidders on 26th September 2017 had already been evaluated by the NBP specialist team and detailed feedback had been delivered. This means that the process has had the benefit of strong competitive tension up until now, which will help inform the NBP procurement team in ensuring that value for money is achieved at final tender stage. The NBP procurement team also have the benefit and will use comparative costings from similar projects in other Member States together with advice from ComReg, the sectoral regulator with responsibility for the cost of access to the eir pole and duct infrastructure, where relevant to the final bid.
The final contract which will result from the NBP procurement process will ultimately be subject to Government approval on the level of subsidy to be provided once a final bid has been received. This subsidy must also be independently reviewed as providing value for money by the National Development Finance Agency as is required for all Government Capital Projects with a value of more than €20 million. The contract will also be subject to audit and review provisions to ensure that any potential over recovery of State Aid post contract by the bidder can be recovered by the State; this is also a requirement under the European Commission State Aid Guidelines for Broadband being followed by the Department.