National broadband tender set for launch

18 May 2003

An invitation to tender for the running of the Managed Services Entity (MSE), the body that will be responsible for running the €65m, 19-town network under the National Broadband Strategy, is to be advertised in the European Journal within the next two to three weeks.

A spokesperson at the Department of Communications, Marine and Natural Resources told that an invitation to tender would be published in the European Journal, the main source of tendering notices in the EU, as well as being advertised locally in national newspapers. “It is imminent, the documents are ready,” he said.

“The successful candidate for the MSE will manage, market and maintain the network. The winner most likely will be a private organisation and it will have to generate revenue. The idea is not to put it in the hands of the county councils. The overall plan is to reduce the cost of access and promote competition,” he said.

Last month, the Minister for Communications, Marine and Natural Resources, Dermot Ahern TD, unveiled a 7,500km broadband network that will traverse four counties in the midlands as part of a €11.4m investment. Across the country, towns from Donegal to Cork will be connected to the broadband backbone as part of the National Broadband Plan. It is envisaged that once the rollout is completed, it will provide cheap, always-on access to the internet for businesses and homes as well as schools, colleges and hospitals.

Each of the 19 principal towns identified for the project will be circled by a metropolitan area network (MAN). Under the most recent 7,500km investment, the MANs will stretch for 17km around Athlone, 18km around Mullingar, 19km around Portlaoise, 13km around Tullamore and 10km around Roscommon. Other broadband projects to commence construction under the National Broadband Plan include Cork and Galway.

The project is the second stage of the 19-town €65m investment planned for this year. The overall national broadband plan is understood to be 90pc funded by the Government and 10pc by the EU. Local authorities will maintain ownership of the ducts and channels that will circle and link the key towns and private contractors have already begun pitching for the business of laying the infrastructure. The networks circling the towns will be metropolitan area networks (MANs) into which local businesses and overseas investment firms can connect, thereby providing stimulus for economic development of each town.

Originally unveiled about a year ago, the initial national broadband plan was to have involved some €200m investment and included 67 towns. However, the dawn of harsh economic realities prompted a re-scaling of the plans to include 19 key towns in the first phase, with the remaining 48 towns to be included over the next three to four years.

By John Kennedy