I propose to take Questions Nos. 232, 233 and 235 together.
Under EU State Aid guidelines, it is a requirement that Member States thoroughly evaluate commercial plans so as to ensure that State Aid is confined to areas of well-defined market failure, where commercial investment is unlikely to occur in the near future. The deployment of the National Broadband Plan network is currently to provide access to high speed broadband to circa 540,000 premises across the State. The relevant premises are identified by Eircode and are represented as AMBER on my Department’s High Speed Broadband Map. It is open to the Department within the NBP contract to increase or decrease the scope of the contract post-contract award where it is considered necessary to do so, for example to ensure on-going compliance with State Aid rules.
The National Broadband Plan procurement process was run on a technology neutral basis and sought to elicit the best technical solution from participating bidders to address the market failure identified and deliver on the minimum technical specifications set down in the tender documents. In line with State Aid Guidelines, the solution proposed by the successful Bidder was based on the maximum reuse of existing infrastructure to the greatest extent possible, which under the final tender provided involves deployment of new fibre cable over existing eir poles and through existing eir ducts, as well as some new build where no existing infrastructure exists.
The solution proposed at final tender was subject to a robust evaluation and was found to have met all the requirements set out since 2016.
The network design put forward at final tender met and in some areas exceeded the minimum technical specifications set down in the tender requirements, including the requirement to provide concrete commitments around how the network will be future proofed to meet end user demand over at least the next 25 years. It was a critical part of the assessment that any network design and technical solution put forward by any Bidder provided the necessary assurance and confidence that this could be achieved over the medium to long term. These commitments are also contractually binding on the Bidder.