Irish broadband talks drag on as UK ups spend

Eir says it will invest €200m in the next two years to equip 300,000 rural homes with broadband, irrespective of whether it wins the contract to be the Government-subsidised National Broadband Plan provider next year.

It comes as the UK yesterday announced a further multimillion-pound spend to ensure rural areas in Britain tap into high-speed broadband.

Negotiations are ongoing as to who wins the contract to be the National Broadband Plan provider with three bidders in the running: Eir, enet, and Siro, a joint venture between Vodafone and the ESB.

It was thought that a provider may be chosen by mid-2017, but those close to the bidding process say that timeline may now be ambitious.

The National Broadband Plan is a Government policy which aims to deliver high-speed broadband to every citizen and business in Ireland within five years of being rolled out.

As far back as 2011, a broadband commitment was included in the programme for government, with the aim of having 90% of homes and businesses equipped with broadband by the end of last year.

Fianna Fáil communications spokesman Timmy Dooley slammed the delay. “Full rollout was supposed to be completed by 2015. That deadline has come and gone, and delay after delay has ensured that public confidence in the plan is at an incredibly low level,” he said.

A spokesman for Eir said the company would plough on with plans to equip rural homes with 300,000 fibre-to-the-home services, mostly in rural areas, even as negotiations continued.

He said: “The process means we are precluded from talking about specifics but we do want to get going as soon as possible if selected. However, the National Broadband Plan is not stopping us investing in rural communities immediately.”

A department spokesperson said it was the intention to identify the preferred bidder by the end of 2017.

Meanwhile, Britain will spend £440m (€474m) to roll out superfast broadband to 600,000 extra homes and businesses in rural areas that suffer from poor coverage.

In a bid to boost the economy during Britain’s negotiations to leave the EU, Prime Minister Theresa May has targeted faster broadband networks, particularly in rural areas.

The new cash will come from funds returned by BT after strong take-up in the first phase of a programme to improve connections, said the Department for Culture, Media, and Sport.

The UK has provided £1.7bn to help boost broadband speeds in remote parts of the country where it is not profitable for commercial providers to invest alone.

It said more than 1.5m homes and businesses had signed up for superfast broadband under the scheme, enabling it to claw back £292m of funding from BT.

Extra money would come from savings across the 44 projects in the first phase of the rollout.

Culture secretary Karen Bradley said people in rural areas need to sign-up to the scheme to unlock extra funding.

“Consumers get a better service, it encourages providers to invest, and when more people sign up in ‘broadband delivery UK’ areas, money is clawed back to pay for more connections,” she said.


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