€400m broadband deal ‘by September’, says Simon Coveney

By Pádraig Hoare

The contracts for the National Broadband Plan (NBP) will be signed by September and the Government will spend €400m to get 100% coverage nationally, Tánaiste Simon Coveney has said.

Mr Coveney was speaking at Cork Chamber’s Future of Cork event, where he outlined the Government’s ambitions for the €115bn infrastructure spend over the next 10 to 20 years.

He said there could be no turning back on the tendering for the NBP, which has fallen into doubt since Eir left the bidding this month.

Enet is now the sole bidder. Eir followed Siro, a joint venture between Vodafone and the ESB, who had previously pulled out.

Sean O’Keeffe, Irish Examiner, Barbara-Anne Richardson, Conor Healy, Cork Chamber, Aidan Forde, Irish Examiner, Tánaiste Simon Coveney and Bill O’Connell, president of Cork Chamber, at a Cork Chamber Breakfast titled ‘The Future of Cork’ in the Clayton Hotel, Lapps Quay. Picture: Darragh Kane

Mr Coveney said Eir’s withdrawal did not mean “Enet could name their price”. He said final contracts were expected to be signed in September.

“The delays have been legal ones and tendering ones. There has been quite a lot of attention around the fact Eir has dropped out of that tendering process, but it is in its final stages.

“Enet are the ones still committed to this. Like in any tendering process, different players sometimes fall out of it, as it moves ahead. That doesn’t mean that Enet can name their price or anything — they’ve already submitted pricing on the basis of their tender.

“We hope, by September, that the tendering process, and the legals around it, will be finalised, so we can get on and spend in and around €300-€400m, I expect, to actually pay for, or subsidise, putting fibre into the ground in isolated, or rural, parts of Ireland to ensure we don’t have an urban-rural divide, like we have had in some other areas,” he said.

Mr Coveney said beginning the process again was not an option for the plan. “What we are not going to do, because Eir pulled out, is start again. If we start again, we will be here in two or three years’ time, in the same position we are in today. We will get to 100% coverage — it will be expensive, but it is worth doing.”

The NBP has been beset by problems, since 2012, when first mooted.

Three bidders — Eir, Siro, and Enet — entered the tendering process to be granted the contract to roll out the programme, but a decision has been delayed on a number of occasions.

Around 540,000 homes and business will rely on the plan to get broadband coverage.

The previous Government allocated €275m for the first phase of the project, in 2015, but would not commit to a final figure of how much it would invest, until the tendering process was complete.

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