Former Minister for Communications Denis Naughten has expressed surprise at claims by Eir that it could complete the National Broadband Plan (NBP) for less than €1bn.
Eir will today tell TDs and Senators that it could complete the NBP for a third of the sum the State has agreed to invest in the project and a fifth of the estimated final cost.
Carolan Lennon, the company’s chief executive, will tell the Oireachtas communications committee on Tuesday that “it is clear to us that we can build rural fibre infrastructure at a lower cost than is currently envisaged in the plans”.
Mr Naughten told RTÉ radio’s Today with Sean O’Rourke that he was surprised when he read reports of Eir’s claim as the company had pulled out of the bidding process just weeks before a decision on a bidder was reached.
Their withdrawal was comparable to a student, who had studied for the Leaving Cert, announcing the Monday before the exams started that they will not be sitting the exams.
He said that six months before Eir pulled out of the bidding process, the then CEO Richard Moat had agreed to meet to discuss anomalies in the roll out of broadband services to 300,000 customers.
The anomalies including schools and businesses that were within a short distance of broadband services but the company had not been prepared to build out the entire distance.
There was a change of approach by the new owners of Eir, he said.
The big issue for Eir has been their reluctance to set up a separate wholesale process which was a key aspect of the proposed new structure.
This had been important, explained Mr Naughten, so that the State would “get part of any profits”.
The “complex” bidding process had been established by a previous government, he added.
The objective was to “get ahead of the curve” and to ensure that any future broadband service could stand the test of time and would be future proofed.
Eir had already missed the first deadline and had sought a six-month extension because of Storm Ophelia, on the provision of broadband to 300,000 customers around the country, he said. Mr Naughten was sceptical that Eir would meet the second deadline either.
If the process is stalled or abandoned it will delay the delivery of service to rural Ireland, he warned.
“Instead we will see a band aid solution which will last four to five years. The full offer has to be future proofed.”