Eir is one of the frontrunners for the lucrative National Broadband Plan contract.
The company has contradicted the minister responsible for its implementation by claiming it remains unclear as to how long rural home and business owners will have to wait for high-speed broadband.
The Irish telecom said the exact delay in the provision of high-speed broadband to rural areas under the National Broadband Plan needs to be clarified.
Earlier this week, the Department of Communications, Energy and Natural Resources confirmed that it would not be in a position to award a contract for the plan this year — leaving 750,000 home and businesses guessing as to how long the delay would be.
Minister Alex White yesterday claimed the delay would see the process set back just a matter of months.
“There has been no delay, or no substantial delay, in this project. The delay that we’re looking at can be measured in months; maybe six months,” he said.
Mr White said the department had allowed interested parties a month’s leeway to make their submissions which he claimed was the reason behind what is now expected to be a six-month delay in awarding the contract.
“This has just emerged in the last few weeks because we have five different consortia have that have said they’re interested in providing this rural broadband. They were supposed to come to us by the end of February [but] they asked for an extension to the end of March.
“So, the submissions came in at the end of March. We’re looking at them, we’re assessing them and we’re of the view that we won’t be able to award a contract by the end of 2016 after all because of the complexities involved.
“We should though be able to award a contract by the middle of 2017 which is around about May or June of next year,” Mr White told RTÉ Radio 1.
The short delay would ensure the plan didn’t run into longer delays due to infringements of State aid rules which prevent the Government from providing broadband in an area where a private operator also plans to do so, he added.
Once the contract is awarded in 2017 the stated three- to five-year implementation timeframe remains unchanged and “crystal clear”, according to the minister.
Eir chief executive Richard Moat yesterday contradicted the minister however, by claiming the exact delay to providing rural broadband remains to be determined.
“It’s a bit unclear. Certainly it seems that the contract won’t be awarded until into 2017 now.
Whether there is then a delay in the period during which the roll-out is to be anticipated I think still remains to be clarified,” Mr Moat said.
Mr White’s suggestion that the successful bidder may be able to implement the plan quicker than the anticipated three-to-five years “suits our agenda”, an Eir spokesperson added.
Mr Moat said the company had no plans at present to expand its own provision of rural broadband to more than 300,000 customers despite the newly announced broadband plan delay.
Meanwhile, Eir issued third-quarter results showing year-on-year revenue growth to €321m and 4% earnings before tax, interest, depreciation, and amortisation growth to €125m, excluding storm costs.
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