BROADBAND PLAN RURAL IRELAND
Almost seven years after the birth of the National Broadband Plan we are still no closer to delivery, writes Wayne O’Connor
WHEN Denis Naughten travelled to New York to address the UN last July, he went out of his way to meet Facebook officials and lambaste them. Minutes and a transcript of the meeting later became public.
The documents show he felt let down and “embarrassed” after he “defended Facebook publicly on a number of occasions”.
He told the company he was “appalled” it wasn’t doing more to protect children from harmful material online.
He held the company accountable but failed to apply the same level of responsibility to himself on that trip to the US. It would contribute to his resignation last week.
Three days before the Facebook meeting, Naughten and his advisers met businessman David McCourt, the founder of Granahan McCourt and chairman of Enet, the last remaining bidder for the national broadband contract.
Hosted by McCourt, they had dinner at Club 21 in Manhattan, a chic, upmarket restaurant that, according to The New York Times, is “at its best when you treat the food as a solid foundation for the liquid entertainment”.
This meeting was minuted and documented by officials in the Department of Communications.
According to the meeting notes it included a brief discussion about the National Broadband Plan.
Fianna Fail leader Micheal Martin believes such discussions have “contaminated the process” designed to roll out fibre broadband across rural Ireland.
At the New York meeting, McCourt told Naughten he was committed to the tender and connecting more than 500,000 homes across the country.
He outlined someone “Irish-based” had been selected to lead the Enet-SSE consortium he was part of. Decisions were to be streamlined within the group and its financing was to be in place by mid-August, ahead of a decision to award the contract to a preferred bidder — from a pool of just one. All other candidates had pulled out of the running, expressing concerns about technical challenges, costs and pricing.
McCourt said changes to the makeup of the Enet-SSE consortium were to be “kept to a minimum”. However, SSE pulled out of the bid weeks later — raising questions about the future of the broadband plan.
Mr Naughten had made the transatlantic journey as a minister under pressure.
He had narrowly escaped a controversy with his job intact after taking a phone call from a PR executive about a proposed merger between Independent News and Media and Celtic Media.
There were also issues with the long-delayed broadband plan which had promised much but offered few signs of delivery.
Bringing high-speed internet to rural Ireland was Naughten’s priority.
He was desperate to get the project over the line after years of bumps and bidders losing interest in the project.