Concerns about the long-term ownership of the rural broadband network and the length of time to complete the planned €5bn project are among findings in revealed in an Oireachtas committee report.
TDs and senators have also sounded concerns over just one State representative being appointed to the board of the new National Broadband Ireland group overseeing the plan.
A report on the broadband plan to connect 1m people in rural Ireland areas, obtained by the Irish Examiner, also questions why so much money is going towards renting poles and ducts for the project. The report will be discussed this week in private by the committee.
The draft report, seen by the Irish Examiner, outlines the hearings and discussions held by the Committee on Communications, Climate Action, and Environment, and it will be discussed this week in private by the committee.
The Government announced last week that it will sign a €3bn contract for the supply of rural broadband later this year after categorically ruling out an offer of a cheaper option for high-speed connections.
Cabinet refused an offer from Eir. Ministers said the Eir plan was not a “feasible alternative” and would not stop a decision to go with the preferred bidder, Granahan McCourt. That consortium will instead be paid a maximum €2.9bn while investors will pay the rest of the €5bn total cost.
Committee members will tomorrow (Tues)be asked if overall they back the Government’s position, but Fianna Fáil is understood to want to delay the final conclusions and publication of the report.
The committee’s draft report says that members are “concerned that the eventual roll-out time for the whole intervention area is a long time for people to wait for broadband, and questioned whether a mixed model of partial fibre could deliver full broadband coverage faster”.
It is estimated that the McCourt plan will take over seven years to complete all high-speed connections.
The report also notes that TDs and senators are concerned that only one member of National Broadband Ireland’s board will be appointed by the Government, while eight will be appointed by the investors. This is especially worrying considering that the “State is providing much more initial capital investment than the investors”.
It was agreed “that one out of nine board members will not be sufficient to protect the taxpayer’s interest in the entity, especially where it comes down to important decisions”.
Another area highlighted was the amount of money going towards renting equipment for connections over the lifetime of the NBI deal. The committee also addressed noted that a large element of the the project cost is the rent projected to be paid to Eir for the use of its poles and ducts — an estimated €900m over 25 years.
“Concern was expressed that a major element of the subsidy was a public reinvestment in Eir’s private pole and duct network,” said the report.