MANS: The world’s longest running mid-term review


MANS: The world’s longest running mid-term review

In May IrelandOffline sought two reports (including RFTs and project briefs) from the Department concerning the Metropolitan Area Networks (MANS). These are middle-mile fibre investments made by the State in 2005 and 2009 to provide connectivity for ISPs in 22 towns in Phase I, and 94 towns in Phase II. Enasc teoranta or ‘enet’ won the concession for both phases, respectively in 2004 and 2009, each to run for 15 years.

Timeline

The ‘mid-term’ review started sometime in 2015. Towards the end of that year the Department started to interview enet’s customers to gather feedback on the operation of the MANS. On the 22nd March 2016 consultants Norcontel tendered for

Consultancy Services on the financial aspects of extending/ retendering the Management Service Entity (MSE) for the Metropolitan Area Networks (MANs)

…and  delivered their report on 23rd June 2016.

On 17th February 2017 another consultancy Analysys Mason tendered for a review titled

‘a Review of the Pricing of products and services provided by the Metropolitan Area Networks (MANs) and of physical access to the MANs for the Minister for Communications, Climate Action and Environment’

…and undertook to deliver their draft report by 7th April 2017 with a final report two weeks after having received the Department’s comments.

The Norcontel Report

Norcontel’s brief was simply to estimate whether it was preferable that the concessions be extended or re-tendered. In order to help them in this task they were given the Department’s own financial analysis and another document, apparently provided by enet and described as ‘the financial projections of the current MSE in the event of an extension and a re-tender scenario’.

Norcontel reported its findings on 23rd of June 2016. In line with the department’s own projections, the option of extending the concessions was considered to be financially better for the State under all scenarios. Co-termination of the MANS I & II concessions in 2030 was the preferred option. In the case of the MANS I, that meant the maximum possible extension – 10 years; and 6 years in the case of the MANS II.

The Analysys Mason Report

Analysys Mason undertook to deliver their draft report on pricing and availability of MANS products by 7th April 2017 and a final report within a further two weeks. The Department has recently (25/07/2018) refused to release this report citing Sections 29 and 30 of the FOI Act 2014.

The record sought at 4 above l.e. Analysys Mason Report on the pricing of products and services provided by the MANs and of physical access to the MANs is still undergoing the deliberative process within the Department and the Department is also in discussions with enet regarding it recommendations. As soon as this process is completed, it is intended to publish the report. Releasing this record prematurely would undermine the Department’s ability to manage contracts and to engage effectively with 3rd parties including enet without being encumbered.

The extension of the concessions

The concessions were extended without apparent fanfare. On the 24th of May 2017  in answer to a Dáil question the Minister stated that the they had been extended ‘recently’. Enet’s contemporaneous media blog records nothing of what must have been quite a coup.

In reply to questions from IrelandOffline the Department stated in May 2018 that ‘as part of the extension of the Agreements a number of contractual changes were agreed which will result in a financial saving to the State.’ No further details were supplied.

Why are the MANS important now?

The availability of competitively priced middle-mile and backhaul products affects us all in terms of choice, availability, and affordability of retail broadband. It seems that a project that started out with good intentions for wider social objectives is now measured only in terms of profit and loss.

That may not be all. The wheeling and dealing tendencies of this Minister has drawn focus to the timing of the extension of the lucrative MANS concessions and the interminable pricing review. It is not clear if the State received anything for the extension of the concessions, and it appears that completion of the pricing review (and anything that might come of it) is now hostage to enet’s continued presence in the NBP procurement process.

The documents released or part released by the Department:

RFT  – Norcontel

Redacted Tender – Norcontel

Redacted Report – Norcontel

RFT – Analysys Mason

Redacted Tender – Analysys Mason

 

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