Accepting Eir’s offer to deliver the National Broadband Plan at a cut price would be illegal, top officials in the Department of Communications have claimed. The plan to deliver high-speed broadband to every home in the country has been the subject of delays and controversy with the cost spiralling from an initial €500m to around €3bn.
Eir chief executive Carolan Lennon last week said the company could deliver the NBP for under €1bn. Appearing before the Oireachtas communications committee, Department of Communications secretary general Mark Griffin dismissed Eir’s offer, claiming it would delay the rollout of rural broadband by three years and break State aid rules.
“From a purely legal perspective, the Government could not accept such an offer even if it were made, given procurement and State aid law,” he said. “The State cannot simply mandate and fund directly outside a procurement process any economic undertaking to carry out a project of this nature.”
Mr Griffin said it would take at least three years to consult on a new strategy to allow Eir back into the tendering process.
Further time would be required to mobilise and commence rollout. In three years’ time, the preferred bidder under current process would have connected up to 1,000 broadband connection points across all counties and passed over 200,000 premises with high-quality, high-speed broadband at affordable prices.
“There would be no guarantee that a new procurement process would attract bidders and if it did, there could be no certainty as to what the ultimate price would be. What is certain, though, is that whatever form that process took, the resulting contract would still need robust governance and oversight measures of the nature specified in the current contract.”
The committee was told that the Government is “appropriately shackled” by EU State aid rules which require higher levels of oversight.
Fianna Fáil’s Timmy Dooley suggested a “massive superstructure” of oversight had been written into the NBP process. “It’s going to cost an additional €2bn to put in place a superstructure around a project which is costing €1bn,” he said.
Mr Griffin said: “We have been pushing this project for the past three years to make sure we maximise value for money for the taxpayer.”