Fine Gael claims National Broadband Plan faces delay with State ownership

21 Aug 2019354 Views

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An Oireachtas committee report has recommended that the planned national broadband network should remain a public entity, but Fine Gael disagrees.

With the Government eager to get going on the National Broadband Plan (NBP), the Oireachtas Committee on Communications has issued its recommendations for how the plan should proceed.

According to The Irish Times, the committee has recommended that the €3bn plan agreed with the National Broadband Ireland (NBI) consortium – led by Granahan McCourt – should remain in public ownership. It also recommended that a cost-benefit analysis on the agreed plan should be carried out.

Under the existing deal, the State will not own the national network once operational, but the committee believes it should be nationalised as otherwise it could pose serious risk to State funds.

The report said: “We assume that the final value of the asset to the bidder will be around €455m. As the State will be providing the vast majority of the capital to pay for the development of this asset, it is hard to justify why the ownership should not in the end revert to the State.

“It is a cause for concern that the operator will recoup its money within seven to eight years, will carry very little risk thereafter and retain full ownership while at the same time the State will have invested almost €3bn with no ownership rights.”

The report said that the tender’s original terms were too narrow, making it difficult for alternative bids to meet them. Additionally, it said, the Government’s membership of the board overlooking the roll-out is too small, with there needing to be a majority of ministerial appointees on the eight-person board as opposed to one member.

‘Either we roll-out broadband under this plan or we don’t’

However, Fine Gael’s parliamentary party chair, Martin Heydon, has claimed that if the recommendations made by the committee are adopted, it could delay the network’s roll-out by a number of years.

“Now is the time for political honesty. Either we roll-out broadband under this plan or we don’t,” he said.

“A fundamental change to the plan, as recommended in some of the recommendations, cannot be made without cancelling this procurement process and starting again. To start again could take five years.”

A spokesperson for the Department of Communications, Climate Action and Environment has reiterated the Government’s plan to deliver the NBP, but said it will consider the report of the Oireachtas committee once it is published.

Green Party leader Eamon Ryan has said that the Government should follow the report’s recommendations “to ensure that the cost of connecting to new homes is covered by the householder as a condition of any planning permission”.

“The ball is back in the Government’s side of the court,” he said. “It will not be easy for them to accept any proposed changes but, with sufficient political will, it should be possible to both get a better return for the exchequer and deliver for rural Ireland.”

Colm Gorey is a journalist with Siliconrepublic.com

editorial@siliconrepublic.com