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2016
3
July

The report please, Mr Naughten.

The report please, Mr Naughten.

IrelandOffline now know who is going to own the assets of the National Broadband Plan and to nobody’s surprise it’s not us the citizens of Ireland.

The rationale

The reason it should be the Irish people is obvious from the intervention mapping. It seems that ninety six percent of the national territory can neither sustain a competitive market in communications infrastructure, nor attract enough interest from the regulator to mandate that the necessary investment be made. A decade and a half of ever deepening digital divide is all the evidence required. Instead of setting out a conclusive solution, the Minister’s announcement of a gap-funded intervention has merely set the clock counting down to the next intervention. Albeit 25 years from now but that day will come.

The argument for State-owned rural telecommunications assets is simple. It allows the State to maintain, improve, extend and upgrade the network as is required to keep it at an appropriate level. It is not an ideological argument, it is a rational response to evidence acquired painfully over the last fifteen years. It is necessary so that rural business may invest with confidence and sustain rural life in the knowledge that public utilities will reliably remain comparable to urban and international standards. It is necessary so that Government itself can develop universal on-line solutions in public administration and services on the assumption of continuing universal access to its users. The reason that this is not now the case is that for the last 15 years an ideologically-driven department and a sadly captured regulator allowed it to happen.

Refutation

The arguments deployed by Mr Naughten in favour of his privately-owned solution are equally uninspiring. He asserts that €600 million is saved for use on other government programs but won’t provide access to the financial modelling that supposedly supports his case. Using the discredited ad-man’s (or telecomms) language he claims “up-to” 70% savings can be made. However he fails to note that State-owned wholesale infrastructure will produce income, or say how much that would be, or say what the likely value of those infrastructure assets would be in 25 years time. He claims he is trying to avoid delay; but having failed to explain why the NBP is already a year behind schedule, he now omits to explain why it would take an additional six months to complete procurement under a State-owned model.

He chooses not to mention the savings in regulatory oversight that State ownership would bring, or to account for the extra expense of a parallel regulatory regime that must now be constructed using private consultants (boo yes, it’s KPMG again). Permanent locums on eye-watering and exorbitant fees will now do the work that the regulator has shirked for a decade and a half. He also fails to inform us that this extra regulatory overhead will persist indefinitely beyond the life of the contract (KPMG yet again).

Mr Naughten’s response to his critics is to taunt them with stories of savings to be spent on healthcare. He is not our finance minister he is our champion and an unequivocal voice for communications.

Conclusion

Sadly, within a few short weeks Mr Naughten seems to have acquired a taste for the secrecy, selectivity and misdirection that have long characterised his department. The KPMG report or other reports on which he relies must be published in full, in unredacted form; and then subjected to independent scrutiny by the public.  Until then, we can simply have no confidence in anything he has to say.

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