Thu, 06 Aug 2020

DUBLIN, Ireland - The Irish government on Wednesday outlined the progress being made towards finalising the contract for the National Broadband Plan.

The plan's aim is to ensure that every home, farm, school and business in Ireland will have access to high speed broadband – no matter where they are located. As a result of the Plan, the 1.1 million people living and working in 540,000 premises across the country including 100,000 businesses and farms, and over 600 schools, who currently cannot access broadband, will have access to a high speed broadband service.

The government has committed that those people predominantly living in rural areas will have the same opportunities as urban Ireland and will be able to have access to the same range of new opportunities that high speed broadband has and will deliver.

The government says significant progress has been made by the department and the Preferred Bidder, National Broadband Ireland in finalising the necessary legal and financial documents, since the government approved the appointment of Preferred Bidder on 7 May 2019.

Following on from eir's appearance before the Joint Oireachtas Committee on 28 June, the Department of Communications, Climate Action and Environment, in consultation with its advisors and with ComReg, have concluded that the high level proposal put forward by the company is not a feasible alternative and has no impact on the decision to appoint a preferred bidder to the Plan.

The objectives of the NBP Strategy approved by the government in December 2015 and signed up to by bidders through the participation in the procurement process, are as follows:

- High speed broadband should be provided to 100% of premises in the country

- There needs to be strong protections for the country with full transparency of where the government subsidy is being directed

- There needs to be equal access for all commercial retail providers to the network

- A future proofed network so that in the future a digital divide between urban and rural areas does not re-emerge; and

- Prices should be affordable for users – both for connections and products.

These, along with the application of value for money principles, have underpinned the procurement process since December 2015, the government says.

Eir was one of the final bidders to the National Broadband Plan and under these terms, made a draft bid of €2.75 billion before making the decision to withdraw from the process. The evidence presented by eir both in the Committee and in their subsequent letter to the department does not meet the above objectives and contains material which has already been raised and dismissed during eir's participation in the procurement process, the government says.

In a response sent to eir on Wednesday, it was outlined that the provision of a subsidy to any company without competition is not legal under procurement and State Aid rules, nor would it meet the key objectives of the National Broadband Plan.

"Work is progressing on finalising the contract for the National Broadband Plan. It is crucial that we move to sign the contract so that the one million people who today are without access are not left behind. Digital technology is transforming how we live, learn and work. We must make sure the people of rural Ireland have the same opportunities as those in our towns and cities," the Minister for Communications, Climate Action and Environment Richard Bruton said Wednesday.

Next steps

Following confirmation of State Aid approval by the European Commission and completion of contract closing requirements, the Preferred Bidder will be awarded the contract for the National Broadband Plan.

It is expected that the NBP Contract will be signed later this year when all of the legal and financial documentation are finalised with roll out commencing shortly thereafter.

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