Minister confirms National Broadband Plan likely to be delayed

13 Oct 201664 Shares

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The complexity of the plan means operators are asking for more time to submit their bids to the National Broadband Plan. Image: hedgehog111/Shutterstock

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Fears that the National Broadband Plan may slip to late 2017, with the last people to be connected by 2023, are likely to be realised.

It could be later in 2017 before preferred bidders for the National Broadband Plan are selected, the Department of Communications has confirmed.

Crucially, the Minister appears to want to stick to the June 2017 target, but will not be drawn into specifying months or days to delivery of a result, due to the magnitude and complexity of the task.

This could be the second major slip for the plan, costed at up to €1bn.

“It could therefore be later in 2017 before we have a preferred bidder(s)”
– DEPARTMENT OF COMMUNICATIONS

Just like the first delay, the slippage of the timeframe is due to operators shortlisted for the plan – including Eir, Siro and Enet – asking for more time.

More time needed, says Minister

“All three bidders have indicated to the Department that more time may be needed to conclude the procurement process,” a spokesperson for the Minister for Communications and Climate Action, Denis Naughten, TD, told Siliconrepublic.com.

“This is not unreasonable given the complexity of the process, the funding that will be involved – over €1bn euro – and the legal, financial and technical aspects of the procurement. The process bears considerable risk for both the State and bidders.

‘This is a solution that will endure for 25 years and beyond and put Ireland to the forefront internationally in terms of connectivity’
– DEPARTMENT OF COMMUNICATIONS

“This means that while the June 2017 target date for completion of the process is still the public commitment, more time may be required. It could therefore be later in 2017 before we have a preferred bidder(s).”

It is understood that all three bidders in the procurement process have formally indicated that they will propose a predominantly fibre to the home solution for rural Ireland.

The plan addresses just under 1m houses and businesses along 100,000km of road and covers 1.8m people.

“Householders and businesses may potentially get speeds not just of 30Mbps, but up to 1Gbps; with businesses availing of symmetrical upload and download speeds,” the spokesperson said.

“This is a solution that will endure for 25 years and beyond and put Ireland to the forefront internationally in terms of connectivity. It will also effectively reverse the urban-rural divide by giving rural businesses and homes access to a technology which is not widely available in our towns and cities at present.”

But any delay is no doubt vexing to rural dwellers who are not provided with adequate services and who will now have to wait longer.

“The process is intense, complex and bears considerable risk for both the State and bidders. It is important to afford the process the time it needs, to achieve the prize that has been identified as the solution. While the Minister fully understands the economic and societal impact caused by the lack of broadband, it is important that all bidders and the procurement team are given the time they need to deliver a successful conclusion to the process and the best possible solution for Ireland.”

The road ahead

Since July, when three consortia were shortlisted as bidders and invited to participate in formal dialogue, there have been approximately 150 hours of dialogue between the parties, the spokesperson said.

According to the Department of Communications, bidders have been issued with 2,000 pages of contract documentation.

The spokesperson said that a further 300+ hours of dialogue are anticipated.

The next stage of the process will be an invitation for bidders to formally submit their proposed solutions.

“This will then be the subject of further dialogue to test the robustness of the proposals, in anticipation of the formal submission of tenders.

“The purpose of the intensive dialogue process is to tease through very detailed specifications and to troubleshoot issues arising, to deliver a robust and fit-for-purpose contract and network,” the spokesperson said.

“In parallel, the Department is understood to be working through a revision of the High-Speed Broadband map to capture up to 170,000 premises in the BLUE area, which we now understand won’t get services from commercial operators. The intention is to include as many of these as possible in the procurement.”

The spokesperson said Minister Naughten is working with the Minister for Arts, Heritage, Regional, Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs, Heather Humphreys, TD, to address immediate frustrations, through the work of the mobile phone and broadband taskforce. The taskforce aims to unlock barriers to investment in mobile and broadband technologies, including planning, road openings etc.

The Department added that in early 2017, ComReg will auction the 3.6GHz spectrum bands that will provide an 86pc increase in total harmonised spectrum available for mobile, nomadic and fixed wireless broadband services.

The Minister confirmed that he will sign the relevant regulations over the coming days, to allow ComReg’s auction process to commence.

The Minister also announced €8m for RTÉ which will allow it to free up the 700MHz spectrum band.

ComReg, he said, will make plans to auction this spectrum, which will provide for significantly enhanced mobile coverage over 4G and, eventually, 5G.

Editor John Kennedy is an award-winning technology journalist.

editorial@siliconrepublic.com