If scheme goes ahead, first homes could be con­nected by late 2019

Irish Independent - - News Broadband Fiasco - Adrian Weck­ler

WHILE pun­dits, politi­cians and ri­val tele­coms firms lobby for their pre­ferred out­come, a mil­lion peo­ple in Ire­land’s broad­band dead zones are ask­ing one thing – when will we get clar­ity on an out­come, one way or the other?

Hav­ing nom­i­nally been given the go-ahead by the Smyth au­dit re­port, the next thing the Na­tional Broad­band Plan (NBP) will see is a Gov­ern­ment de­ci­sion on pro­ceed­ing with the re­main­ing bid­der to a con­tract stage.

Al­though there is only one com­pany com­pet­ing for that con­tract, the Gov­ern­ment still says that go­ing ahead with it is not a fore­gone con­clu­sion.

Given the size and length of the con­tract – a 25-year deal that will re­sult in the bid­der own­ing the net­work in the end – the Gov­ern­ment has to be able to stand over ev­ery pro­vi­sion of it. This is what it has been mostly do­ing for the last five months. A de­ci­sion was ex­pected be­fore Christ­mas, but it may now be in Jan­uary.

If the Gov­ern­ment de­cides to pro­ceed, the net­work pre-build­ing process will start in earnest. A con­tract would be signed be­tween the two par­ties within weeks and shov­els into the ground would soon fol­low.

If that hap­pens, it’s pos­si­ble we would see the first of the 540,000 homes con­nected by the end of 2019. The bulk of the re­main­der would then be hooked up in 2020 with most of the fi­nal batch done by the end of 2021. A few thou­sand will still likely be wait­ing un­til af­ter that and might pos­si­bly be given a wire­less broad­band ser­vice in­stead of a fi­bre land­line one.

Other than cur­rent politi-

cal is­sues around the ten­der bid, there are other hur­dles to over­come. A deal with Eir on ac­cess to its ru­ral in­fra­struc­ture still needs to be ham­mered out for large chunks of the State-backed ru­ral ser­vice to be put in place.

Eir owns most of the ru­ral in­fra­struc­ture, in­clud­ing all the phone lines that cur­rently ser­vice homes and busi­nesses in towns and vil­lages around the coun­try.

The new NBP net­work has to be able to use some of it. But there’s a stand-off go­ing on over it.

Eir wants the go­ing com­mer­cial rate, which has been in place since be­fore the NBP was a thing. The bid­der and the Gov­ern­ment say that this is un­re­al­is­tic and that a com­mer­cial rate isn’t ap­pro­pri­ate in the cur­rent con­text. The tele­coms reg­u­la­tor, Com­reg, might be asked to in­ter­vene.

There’s a stand­off over use of the Eir net­work

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