Opposition say plans to privatise broadband network are “deeply flawed”

Fianna Fáil’s Timmy Dooley says the Dáil needs to debate the issue

Broadband, privatisation, Ireland, rural broadband, Denis Naughten, National Broadband Scheme, NBS

File photo of a broadband router and cable | Image: Rui Vieira / PA Wire/Press Association Images

Members of the opposition have hit out at plans to privatise Ireland's €500m State-sponsored broadband network.

Following a recommendation by Communications Minister Denis Naughten, the Government has chosen the Commercial Stimulus Model for the network that will be part-funded by the Exchequer.

It will see the private sector finance, design, build, own and operate the network - with contractual obligations to the Department of Communications.

Minister Naughten stressed that the winning bidders will be subject to "stringent contract provisions to ensure that the network delivers quality, affordable high speed broadband to all parts of Ireland that cannot currently access services."

The minister said that his department had commissioned detailed costings, "down to every individual home in the intervention area" and on that basis, had modelled the likely cost of each ownership model.

He also noted that the first two stages of the formal procurement process is now complete.

“The pre-qualification process commenced on December 22nd 2015”, Minister Naughten said.

“Responses were received from five companies, representing 32 consortia on March 31st 2016”.

These responses have been evaluated by the department from a technical, financial and legal compliance perspective.

"A number of companies have now qualified to proceed to the next stage of the procurement process and all companies are being notified today," he added.

Plans for broadband coverage by 2020 | Source: Department of Communications

But Fianna Fáil’s spokesperson on communications Timmy Dooley says the Government’s plan is deeply flawed.

Deputy Dooley says he wrote to Minister Naughten almost two weeks ago to outline his concerns, and make clear that Fianna Fáil is opposed to the option.

Deputy Dooley says: “The roll out of broadband across the country must be a key priority for this Government, especially in remote and rural areas.”

“While I appreciate that commercial operations must be included as part of the national plan, I have grave concerns about handing over full ownership of the infrastructure to them.”

“We need to ensure the evolving high-speed broadband needs of the area to be covered by this contract are met, and remain in step with those areas covered by the commercial marketplace, taking future technology advances into consideration and protecting the initial State investment,” he adds.

Mr Dooley also says he will table an amendment to the private members motion this week, giving the Dáil an opportunity to debate and take a vote on the issue.

'Most significant investment'

While Sinn Féin spokesperson on communications Brian Stanley has called on the Government to take a long-sighted approach to its national broadband plan.

 “I am appealing to the Minister for Communications to ensure that the infrastructure used in the roll-out of the National Broadband Plan is held in State ownership,” Deputy Stanley says.

“The roll-out of fibre broadband to all parts of Ireland is possibly the most significant infrastructural investment of our generation with the potential to reinvigorate many deprived parts of the Island.”

“The potential return to the State of delivering high speed broadband to all regions and rural areas is huge, and would certainly cover the cost compared to relying on private industry,” he adds.

The National Broadband Scheme (NBS), co-funded by the European Regional Development Fund (ERDF), was designed to deliver basic, affordable broadband to areas across the country.Following a tendering process, the Department of Communications awarded the contract to Three on December 23rd 2008.

The scheme ended following a 68 month period at midnight on August 25th 2014.

Following a public consultation, an updated strategy was published in December last year.

The ambition of the strategy is to achieve 100% access to high speed broadband by the end of 2020.