The National Broadband Plan – the process from hell

The National Broadband Plan – the process from hell

Eamonn Wallace, spokesman for IrelandOffline said “Once again, last week, we witnessed a government in chaos. First they ask an independent auditor of the NBP to produce a report stating that the process that he has been involved in since the beginning is perfectly fine and no “damage has been done” and no-one did anything “wrong”, while generally this may be considered to be a correct assessment it actually does open up many more questions than it actually answers…it’s almost like the report’s conclusions were drawn up in advance and the report simply rubber stamped those conclusions.”

Reminder

The National Broadband Plan has been “on the go” since 2012 and was described at the time it was announced as being akin to the “rural electrification of the 21st century”.

Its aim is to bring high-speed broadband to every home and business in the country where such a service has no commercial operators available. Roughly that’s about 542,000 premises that still have to be connected. The plan as it stands is to have a commercial operator roll out this network, with the state paying a subsidy to cover the extra cost beyond what is commercially viable under a “gap-funded” model.

The questions

Wallace continued : “The  report does not satisfactorily clarify if the meetings between ex-minister Naughten did or did not provide Granahan McCourt with sensitive information. We can only guess as to what actually transpired and we only have the participant’s statements, this is of itself a breach of ministerial protocol.

Will the public’s investment in “broadband for all” give us a long-term return. Under the current proposals, the public will subsidise the building of the network which will then, at the end of the process (25 years), revert to private ownership.

With the process having essentially collapsed and all the telecoms bidders withdrawing from the process we are now left with the bizarre scenario of one bidder saying “they can provide value for money”, this seems rather unlikely given human nature.”

Wallace went on: “Is this consortium the same consortium that submitted the initial tender considering that nearly all the original members have also left the process.”

Wallace also said: “Where has the new (wreck-it-Ralph) crazy number of 3 billion come from, industry sources believe the installation of fibre would generally cost somewhere between €1000 to €1300 per household on average (with perhaps some outliers costing a little more)?”

The MANs concession

Wallace went on to say: “Granted there are more questions than answers but one of the largest unanswered issues that was not addressed was the renewal of MANs concessions: was this done as a some sort of ill conceived NBP bidder incentive and why was this incomprehensible decision made? Why were alternative MAN bidders excluded from the process? This is bizarre considering that we were told that “more bidders was considered to be good in the NBP and fewer bidders were “good” in MANs process”

Also there are many issues over enet’s exorbitant pricing structures, for instance the Man’s pricing is outlined here. After all this is supposed to be our infrastructure, paid for by the taxpayers of Ireland. Now consider that Comreg, after extensive consultation have set prices for Ducting, pole access and Dark fibre (albeit not requiring that it actually be made available) and these are published in Comreg 16/39 decision, immediately one can notice the massive variance in pricing, is this exorbitant pricing what is in store for consumers of the NBP?

Why have details of the MSE Liaison Committee only emerged in Smyth Report? Is this entity the de facto regulatory authority for existing state fibre? Who is on this Committee? Who chairs it? How often does it meet? Where are the minutes published? Did this Committee have key role in renewing MANs Concessions and blocking other bidders?

How long from a successful bid conclusion before Granahan-McCourt can sell off the NBP? Thereby kicking off a long cycle of ownership changes that will inevitably maximize revenues and minimize  investment in the NBP rollout.”

Conclusion

This is a fast moving story and there are far too many questions to be taken on-board here and we will return to more issues at a later date.

There’s been a lot of uninformed chatter about 4G/5G being able to provide for the needs of the country, Vodafone have recently poured cold water on these ideas and having said that any sensible mobile proposal will require fibre to every mast in the country so we end up back at square one anyway. We really do not need a repeat of the debacle of the lack-lustre, sometimes on sometimes off, National Broadband Scheme of yesteryear where the state essentially funded a mobile operator to build out its network.

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