Government to analyse Eir’s broadband claims, Varadkar tells Dáil

The Government is willing to consider Eir’s claim that it could deliver the National Broadband Plan for less than €1bn, the Taoiseach has said.

Leo Varadkar told the Dáil it was a “big turnaround” for the telecommunications firm but he was “all ears” as to how it could roll out rural broadband for less.

He added that the Department of Communications had written to Eir seeking clarification over what it was offering.

The company’s chief executive Carolan Lennon told an Oireachtas committee on Tuesday that it was “certain” it could roll out broadband to “every home and farm” in the state for less than €1bn.

The Government in May appointed Granahan McCourt as the preferred bidder for the rollout of broadband to more than 540,000 homes and businesses across the country. It has committed to spending €3bn on the project.

“This is a big turnaround,” Mr Varadkar said.

“The company is now saying that it can do this project for €1bn and if that’s the case I’m all ears and we have to listen to it.

“We need to know if this offer is real, we need to know if it stacks up. We need to know what kind of delay would be imposed on people in rural Ireland waiting for broadband if we went back to a new procurement process. There would have to be a new procurement process.”

Mr Varadkar said one of his concerns was that the cost savings Eir was offering would be met by imposing higher charges on the 500,000 homes, farms and businesses in rural areas.

He said any higher charges or fees to customers would be a “serious problem” for the Government.

The Taoiseach was speaking after Fianna Fáil's leader accused the Government of being “too dismissive” of Eir’s claim that it could deliver the National Broadband Plan for less than a billion euro.

Micheál Martin welcomed the Government’s decision to look at what Eir was offering.

But Mr Martin claimed former communications minster Denis Naughten “got too close to the Granahan McCourt consortium and the political and electoral imperative took over and the issue of costs went out the window”.

He said costs had “ballooned” from the 2017 estimates, never mind the original estimate of €500m.

“You’ve been too dismissive, so far, of people who have raised legitimate questions about this issue,” he said.

“You’ve been too dismissive yesterday of the Eir submission. It deserves further analysis. I think alternatives should be considered.”

- Press Association

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