Dismay as ‘shambolic’ broadband plan ‘hanging by a thread’

Enet has said it remains committed to the National Broadband Plan project despite one of the consortium’s major players dropping out of the process. Enet is the only bidder for the plan.

Dismay as ‘shambolic’ broadband plan ‘hanging by a thread’

Pádraig Hoare

Enet has said it remains committed to the National Broadband Plan project despite one of the consortium’s major players dropping out of the process. Enet is the only bidder for the plan.

Business and political leaders reacted with dismay after SSE said it would no longer be part of Enet’s bid for the long-delayed plan, which is supposed to bring broadband to around 500,000 houses and businesses in hard-to-reach parts of the country.

SSE has confirmed that it is “no longer a participant in the consortium” bidding for the plan, but that it “wished our former consortium partners and the Government well as they continue to progress discussions for the delivery of this important infrastructure project”.

Chairman of Enet, Irish-American businessman David McCourt, said the consortium now comprises Granahan McCourt, John Laing and the Irish Infrastructure Fund.

“In building this consortium, we have brought together the best global expertise in building networks, particularly in telecoms, and in co-ordinating all of the elements required to finance a project of this size in partnership with government. To this, we have added world-leading funds committed to the development of infrastructure around the world and to the National Broadband Plan in particular.”

He said despite SSE dropping out, the plan would be delivered.

“The process is very much on track. We’re just weeks away from submitting our final tender. The team is very focused on concluding the procurement phase of this project and moving swiftly into delivery.”

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, there is still no date earmarked.

When asked earlier this month if a timeframe for the contract to be awarded had been decided, the department said it was still in the process.

The broadband plan 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.

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

It is believed the costing of the plan, estimated at over €1bn, is still being ironed out between the Government and Enet. Despite the delay, the Government said most houses and businesses will have broadband by 2021.

Labour spokesman on communications, Seán Sherlock said the plan was “in shambles”.

Public trust is shot to pieces and the broadband plan is in shambles, and citizens will bear the brunt of this latest failure. The minister now has serious questions to answer. We’ve had a litany of withdrawals from the process on his watch. The next moves from government on this will be critical

SME representative body Isme said the latest move “must be the final nail in the coffin” for the plan, and called on the State to “buy back the wholesale distribution network” and nationalise it.

In its pre-budget submission, Isme said: “We consider the sale of distribution network when Telecom Éireann was privatised to have had catastrophic consequences for the market. Now is the time to reverse that decision.”

Sinn Féin communications spokesman Brian Stanley said the plan was now “hanging by a thread”.

“The tendering process is a logistical and financial mess. The taxpayer is now going to be faced with picking up the tab on another government mistake.

“The Government must to go back to the drawing board on this one and find an alternative, effective plan on ensuring everybody has access to broadband across Ireland.”

Fianna Fáil spokesman on communications, Timmy Dooley said the Government’s “lazy attitude to rural Ireland” had led to the “latest disaster to befall the National Broadband Plan”.

“Since Minister Naughten took office in 2016, every facade of the plan has been diminished and downgraded, and any opportunity to reduce the State’s involvement has been taken.

“Minister Naughten must deliver a fully independent review of the plan to date as was voted for by the Dáil last February.”

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