Final tender submitted for rural broadband plan

Final tender submitted for rural broadband plan

Pádraig Hoare

The sole bidder for the long-mooted National Broadband Plan says it has submitted a final tender for the project, six years after the vision was first mooted by the former coalition government.

National Broadband Ireland, a consortium led by Granahan McCourt, said it had presented a plan for delivery of “world-class gigabit (1,000Mbps) broadband to every home, farm and business” in the NBP’s reach.

The NBP, which is supposed to bring broadband to more than 500,000 houses and businesses in hard-to-reach parts of the country, has been beset by problems since it was first mooted in 2012. Eir, Siro, and Enet entered the tendering process to be granted the contract to design the programme, but a decision has been delayed on a number of occasions.

Eir followed Siro, a joint venture between Vodafone and the ESB, which had previously pulled out. Enet was left as the sole bidder.

However, one of the major components of the Enet consortium, SSE, dropped out in July.

According to National Broadband Ireland, the consortium is now made led by Granahan McCourt, partnered by Enet, Nokia, Actavo, The Kelly Group, and KN Group.

Engineering firm Actavo is owned by Denis O’Brien and was formerly known as Siteserv.

Enet chairman, Irish-American businessman Dave McCourt said: “We have assembled a world-class team with financial resources, unrivalled construction expertise and proven experience of operational capabilities to deliver this project for the Irish Government and for the citizens in rural Ireland.

“Throughout my career, the businesses I have been involved with have serially improved connectivity in technologically underserved regions of the world and have pioneered the roll-out of telecom networks of substantial scale.

"We know this experience will prove to be crucial for the NBP and that’s why I can be so confident in our ability to coordinate all the elements required to finance and deliver a project of this size and complexity.”

Despite Communications Minister Denis Naughten saying the tender process for the contract was in its final stages in a series of answers to Dáil questions since October 2017, no recent announcement was forthcoming until yesterday’s tender bid.

Original bidder Siro announced this week that it was pumping €60m into Cork city and county to provide broadband speeds of up to 1 gigabit per second into 75,000 homes and businesses.

Tánaiste Simon Coveney insisted the NBP was “absolutely still on the radar of the Government”.

It is a huge priority, as it has been. Over the last seven years, we’ve seen high-speed broadband connectivity in Ireland go from 50% of the population to 75%. It’s moving in the right direction quickly.

“Everyone knows there are parts of the country that are isolated from the infrastructure that is needed. Where there isn’t a commercial case for private investment, that is why we have a national broadband strategy and a national broadband plan, which is going to involve hundreds of millions of euro of taxpayers’ money going into making sure we don’t have an urban-rural divide. But that will take time to roll out,” he said.

Mr Naughten is at the end of finalising a contract to do that but it could not be done suddenly “by magic”, the Tánaiste said.

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