The European Commission published detailed State Aid Guidelines for broadband in 2013, which the current process under the National Broadband Plan has followed. Member States have a wide margin of discretion in designing interventions to support broadband roll-out and choosing an appropriate intervention and financing model, subject to notification under State aid rules as appropriate. The measure proposed by Ireland to address the market failure identified was consulted on in 2015 and decided prior to the initiation of the public procurement process in December 2015. The Commission has made it clear to my Department that should Ireland wish to pursue an alternative investment model (for example a new State agency) to that chosen in 2015, a complete (pre-) notification to the EU Commission would be necessary, outlining in detail the design of the intervention under any new investment model and its possible compatibility with all relevant State aid rules (including the relevant Procurement Law Directive), with the same level of detail as has been provided under the current plan.
To establish a new non- commercial state agency my Department estimates that a new process would take at least 2 years from initiation to the appointment of an Agency, given the complexity of ensuring Ireland remains compliant with broadband State Aid and procurement law requirements. Such an agency would have to be established from scratch. Should an agency model be chosen, that Agency would then have to set out a plan to procure the necessary network design, build and operate contractors to act on behalf of the Agency to rollout the network and offer wholesale services to the market.