Thursday, 4 July 2019

Questions (5)

Seán Sherlock

Question:

5. Deputy Sean Sherlock asked the Minister for Communications, Climate Action and Environment the status of the national broadband plan. [28828/19]

View answer

Oral answers (4 contributions) (Question to Communications)

Does the Minister not believe it is high time we called out Eir for the nonsense in which it is engaged at present and call its representatives out for the blaggards they are in respect of their latest interventions on providing for the national broadband plan?

The national broadband plan aims to ensure that every home, school and business in Ireland has access to high-speed broadband. This is being achieved through a combination of commercial investment across the country and a State intervention in those areas where commercial operators acting alone are unlikely to invest. The national broadband plan has been a catalyst in encouraging investment by the telecoms sector. In 2012, fewer than 700,000, or 30% of Irish premises had access to high-speed broadband. Today, 74% of the 2.4 million premises in Ireland can access high-speed broadband.

I recently brought a recommendation to the Government to confer preferred bidder status on Granahan McCourt, the remaining bidder in the national broadband plan procurement process, and the Government agreed to this at its meeting on 7 May.

The Government decision means that it is intended to award the State intervention contract to National Broadband Ireland, subject to contract close, including the finalisation of financial and legal documents. A period of final due diligence on all elements of the contract is part of the normal conclusion of a procurement process.

National Broadband Ireland will be supported by a number of experienced subcontractors and is currently tasked with finalising negotiations on contracts with subcontractors to assist in the delivery of the national broadband plan. It is anticipated that a subset of these subcontracts will be required prior to contract close to support deployment. The state aid notification relating to the national broadband plan will also be submitted to the European Commission.

It is anticipated that these elements will require a number of months, with contract close expected later this year and deployment commencing shortly after that. That was an update on the status of the plan, which was what was sought in the original question.

I ask the Minister again if he believes that we have indulged Eir for long enough in respect of the interventions that have been made in these Houses in recent days? One interpretation of Eir's activities is that it wants to scupper the national broadband plan.

I will not give a view attributing motivations or otherwise of anyone involved in this project. The position is that Eir was involved in this process, it found fault with a number of elements which the State regarded as key to the protection of the State's investment, compliance with state aid rules and protection of those for whom this service was being designed. In other words, the conditions were for 100% future proofed, high-speed broadband for every home and premises in the country. Eir participated in the process for a long time. It accepted those conditions in the initial period and made a bid of €2.7 billion but then withdrew from the process. It is now suggesting, as it did at the time to be fair, that if all of these protections were abandoned, it could do it cheaper. The State's view then and now was that those requirements are essential to comply with state aid rules and protect the State and those we are seeking to serve. Equally, I recognise and welcome that Eir continues to be committed to supporting the roll-out of the national broadband plan. It has always been envisaged that the most cost-effective way of delivering this is to use the infrastructure of either the ESB or Eir and the company in question would be rewarded with a regulated price for the service it provides.

Question No. 6 replied to with Written Answers.