Consultant awarded €325k broadband contract

3 Apr 2007

Telecoms consultant Mason Communications Ireland has emerged as the winner of a €325,000-plus contract to advise the Department of Communications, Marine and Natural Resources on the National Broadband Strategy, the successor to the failed Group Broadband Scheme.

The contract, which has been awarded to Mason by the Commission for Communications Regulation (ComReg), which is supporting the Department of Communications on the project, was for technical, commercial and financial advice relating to the National Broadband Scheme.

The total value of the contract is €325,556 (excluding Vat). The awarding of the contract appeared as an award notice on the Department of Finance’s eTenders public procurement website.

The Group Broadband Scheme, which was modelled on the Group Water Scheme of the Fifties and Sixties, was scrapped by the Minister for Communications, Marine and Natural Resources Noel Dempsey TD due to poor take-up.

However, communities that had opted for the scheme cited bureaucratic hurdles and foot dragging as a reason for the scheme’s failure.

In November, revealed that only 6,000 subscribers out of an envisaged 90,460 subscribers in rural areas that are not served by telecom players were receiving services under the Group Broadband Scheme..

Documents seen by showed that out of a total amount of €5.9m in grants for 162 approved projects under the County and Group Broadband Scheme, a mere €785,755 was actually drawn down by the applications.

The National Broadband Scheme will replace the County and Group Broadband Scheme and it is understood that the emphasis will be on companies that have the expertise to see a broadband project through as opposed to leaving it solely in the hands of community volunteers.

Responding to a parliamentary question in February, Dempsey said: “The facilitation of broadband coverage across the entire county continues to be a key priority.

“Despite Government and private investment in broadband, there are areas of the country where the private sector is unable to justify the commercial provision of broadband connectivity. Accordingly, the new National Broadband Scheme will aim to provide a broadband service to these areas.”

At a conference on next-generation networks (NGNs) organised by ComReg last month, Dempsey said: “We cannot let a significant section of the country lag behind as the rest of us race on.

“For that reason a steering group of my department and ComReg is currently finalising the scheme to bring a broadband service to parts of the country where the private sector will be unable to justify the commercial provision of broadband connectivity.

“The National Broadband Scheme (NBS) when it is fully rolled out will ensure that all reasonable requests for broadband from houses and premises in rural areas are met,” Dempsey said.

By John Kennedy