Irish government 'on back foot' in broadband contract

15 February 2018

The Republic of Ireland government has insisted its broadband tender process remains competitive even with only one bidder left in the race. 

Last month, the government’s National Broadband Plan (NBP) tendering process ran into trouble after the republic’s largest telecommunications firm Eir suddenly exited the race.

The National Broadband Plan is a state-subsidised programme to rollout broadband to around 542,000 homes and businesses.

Eir’s departure left the Enet-SSE consortium, which includes telecoms firm Enet and energy firm SSE, in pole position to win the contract. Critics say this leaves the government “on the back foot”.

Facing questions from the Oireachtas committee on Communications, Climate Action and Environment, Fergal Mulligan, NBP programme director, rejected the critic’s claims and said the Enet-led consortium would still be operating in a highly competitive and changeable market and “needed to hit the ground running”. 

“They know that the minute this is built they will be hit by thousands and thousands of orders – there’s fundamental pressure on them as a consortium to deliver for their shareholders,” he said. 

“Their perogative is to make a rate of return and to get bums on seats as they say – they’re not here just to get state aid because then they lose their money.”

Responding to Mulligan’s statement, Irish republican party Fianna Fail's communications spokesman Timmy Dooley said Enet now held “all the aces” when it came to timeline and price.

He added that the government still had a number of questions to answer. 

“The first thing is to try to understand if it is possible to get a contract in place with the remaining contractor, if there is some timeline in place as to when the government expects this contract signed, when the work might begin and when that 540,000 cohort of people – who don’t have high-speed broadband – when they might expect to see the work completed,” he said.

Mulligan said the plan would be delivered on time and at a competitive price for the taxpayer. 

“We are giving them a grant – they then need to build this as quick as they can to get people actually buying the service and get revenue in,” he said.

He added that the size of the state subsidy would not be decided until the department was happy that Enet had the right solution. 

Dooley also questioned if the broadband plan was fit for purpose because it had been almost three years since the process began.

In December 2015, the government sought bidders for a contract for the delivery of high-speed nationwide broadband across the country. 

Mulligan said there was no other way of handling the process and unfortunately procurement processes typically took years.

He added that the process was in the final stages and a contract is expected to be awarded to the remaining bidder by the end of September.

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