Telecoms group threatens EC complaint if National Broadband Plan re-opened

8 Jul 2019

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A group representing 10 telecoms providers has warned that it will lodge a complaint with the European Commission should the Government re-open the National Broadband Plan to pursue plans from Eir.

The Association of Licensed Telecommunications Operators (ALTO) has warned in a letter sent to the Minister for Communications Richard Bruton, TD, that it would make a complaint to the European Commission should the Government make any changes to the National Broadband Plan.

The group made reference to recent claims by Eir about its ability to deliver rural broadband for a significantly lower price than the current projected €5bn cost – claims which ALTO said lack credibility.

It urged the Government not to consider the proposals any further despite what it dubbed “acute and clear political pressures”.

The association said that many of its members – which include rival operators such as BT Ireland, Sky Ireland, Siro, Three Ireland, Virgin Media, Verizon, Vodafone and more – had already made investments to ensure the successful roll-out of 5G.

“If the tactical interference in a public procurement process, grounded in State aid law and rules, is seen to have borne fruit, then ALTO considers it will be appropriate to bring such a matter to the attention of the European Commission Directorates General Competition and Information Society for further investigation,” Association chairperson Ronan Lupton wrote.

It was reported last week that the Government was set to reject Eir’s proposed €1bn plan, which it broached as an alternative to the €5bn on the current plan.

A spokesperson for the Department of Communications said that the plan failed to satisfy key criteria related to State aid, transparency, access to the network for commercial providers, risk-sharing and State clawbacks for profit.

“The Department will respond comprehensively to this letter, but from an initial consideration and comments made in the [Communications] committee, it is clear that this new approach has not met the above conditions,” the spokesperson said.

She also said that restructuring the plan would tack three to five years of a delay onto the rural broadband roll-out.

Though Ireland still ranks relatively low on global broadband speed metrics, the roll-out of fibre broadband has helped it work its way up the ranks according to estimates released last week.

Eva Short was a journalist at Silicon Republic