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Government signs contract for National Broadband Plan

The contract for the €3 billion National Broadband Plan has been signed by the Government. Gove...
Newstalk
Newstalk

07.15 19 Nov 2019


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Government signs contract for...

Government signs contract for National Broadband Plan

Newstalk
Newstalk

07.15 19 Nov 2019


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The contract for the €3 billion National Broadband Plan has been signed by the Government.

Government ministers travelled to a school in a rural area of Co Wicklow to formally sign the contract.

The plan received approval from the Cabinet this morning after the EU last week ruled the plan complies with state aid rules.

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Peter Hendrick, CEO of National Broadband Ireland, spoke to Newstalk's Jess Kelly about the signing of the contract.

He said: "From today, we will start commencing design and build activities... our contractors will start commencing design within the next six to eight weeks.

"You will start seeing NBI teams and vans across the country... within the first year, our plan is to start with what we call broadband connection points - which is about 300 broadband points around the country... where people can access high-speed broadband.

"These are in facilities such as community halls, schools, libraries or GAA facilities."

He added that efforts to begin rolling out the wider fibre network would begin in 'parallel' with that process.

Broadband plan

The European Commission was investigating whether the Government spend on the plan breached EU state aid rules, which restrict national investment in services offered by private ventures

Cabinet ministers began meeting at the earlier time of 7:30am to sign off on the contract, despite strong opposition to the plan by opposition parties.

After years of efforts to get the plan underway, Communications Minister Richard Bruton confirmed on Tuesday that the Government would sign the contract with National Broadband Ireland.

He claimed it will be the "biggest investment in rural Ireland since rural electrification".

The project aims to roll out broadband to 540,000 homes, farms and businesses - providing high speed internet to around 1.1 million people.

However, the project has not been without controversy.

Delays and setbacks involved a number of firms pulling out of the bidding for the contract.

A number of opposition parties have also demanded that the broadband network should be publicly owned, as the State is investing up to €3 billion in the process.

That's likely to become a lot more difficult after the contracts are signed.

The broadband plan is likely to form a big part of Fine Gael's pitch to voters in the upcoming general election.

'Flawed and compromised'

Sinn Féin's David Cullinane said it was disappointing the Government had signed off on a "flawed and compromised" plan.

He argued: “The Government should not be proceeding with this particular option.

“It is one that has received almost universal criticism – from political parties, Oireachtas committees, senior civil servants,  and the industry itself.

“Indeed, last month the Dáil voted to keep the network in public ownership. There is nobody except Fine Gael who thinks this plan is a good idea."

People Before Profit's Bríd Smith also criticised the plan.

She suggested: "This fiasco has been well signaled and the Government have been well warned, this decision is reckless and has more to do with PR spin ahead of the election."

Reporting by Sean Defoe and Stephen McNeice
Main image: The contract being signed by Taoiseach Leo Varadkar, Minister Richard Bruton and National Broadband Ireland's David McCourt with sixth class students from St Kevins National School. Image: Merrion Street

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