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 Header Item Gnó na Dála - Business of Dáil
 Header Item Ceisteanna - Questions
 Header Item Ceisteanna ar Sonraíodh Uain Dóibh - Priority Questions
 Header Item National Broadband Plan

Wednesday, 10 October 2018

Dáil Éireann Debate
Vol. 973 No. 3

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  10 o’clock

Gnó na Dála - Business of Dáil

Acting Chairman (Deputy Eugene Murphy): Information on Eugene Murphy Zoom on Eugene Murphy The Ceann Comhairle has proposed that we use the prayer and the period of reflection to solemnly mark the centenary of the sinking of the RMS Leinster. Shortly before 10 a.m. 100 years ago today, 10 October 1918, the RMS Leinster sank shortly after leaving Kingstown Harbour, now Dún Laoghaire Harbour, struck by torpedoes from a German submarine. It was the worst maritime disaster in the Irish Sea, with at least 564 members of the ship’s crew, as well as passengers, tragically losing their lives that October morning 100 years ago this morning. We might remember this tragic event during this morning’s period of reflection.

  We commence this morning with questions to the Minister for Communications, Climate Action and Environment, Deputy Naughten. I welcome the Minister, the Minister of State, Deputies and staff of the House.

Ceisteanna - Questions

Ceisteanna ar Sonraíodh Uain Dóibh - Priority Questions

National Broadband Plan

 1. Deputy Timmy Dooley Information on Timmy Dooley Zoom on Timmy Dooley asked the Minister for Communications, Climate Action and Environment Information on Denis Naughten Zoom on Denis Naughten the status of the national broadband plan; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [41459/18]

 2. Deputy Brian Stanley Information on Brian Stanley Zoom on Brian Stanley asked the Minister for Communications, Climate Action and Environment Information on Denis Naughten Zoom on Denis Naughten the level of progress on the national broadband plan; the viability of the tender process; the date for signing of the tender agreement; and the expected date of completion of the national broadband plan. [41257/18]

 5. Deputy Thomas Pringle Information on Thomas Pringle Zoom on Thomas Pringle asked the Minister for Communications, Climate Action and Environment Information on Denis Naughten Zoom on Denis Naughten the status of the tendering process for the national broadband plan; if he is satisfied with the process to date; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [41465/18]

Deputy Timmy Dooley: Information on Timmy Dooley Zoom on Timmy Dooley The national broadband process has seen a dizzying number of revelations over the past few weeks that can only be described as farcical. From the significant change in the character and make-up of the bidding consortium, and the Minister's knowledge and involvement in this, to his general meetings in New York with Mr. David McCourt to the sudden sale of Enet on Monday and legal action against the remaining bidder, Granahan McCourt, for alleged misuse of privileged information, we are yet again in a position where the national broadband plan, NBP, is mired in controversy. The initial Enet-led consortium of SSE and John Laing Group has now disbanded and we are left with an investment fund proposing to deliver broadband. What is the position of the procurement process for the national broadband plan?

Minister for Communications, Climate Action and Environment (Deputy Denis Naughten): Information on Denis Naughten Zoom on Denis Naughten I propose to take Questions Nos. 1, 2 and 5 together.

I welcome the opportunity to update the House on progress of the national broadband plan. The commercial sector has failed to bring high-speed broadband to large parts of rural Ireland. The purpose of the Government’s national broadband plan is to address this market failure. Ireland is not alone in facing this challenge. It is a challenge faced by other digitally ambitious EU member states and a number of these member states are making very significant interventions in the market to ensure the deployment of high speed broadband connectivity.

As I previously outlined, the final tender for the contract to roll out the national broadband plan was received by my Department on 18 September and this is the final stage in the procurement process. The public procurement process for the national broadband plan has of necessity been a complex and lengthy process. As Deputies will appreciate, this is no ordinary infrastructure build. The NBP is not comparable with more standard infrastructure projects, such as the construction of a school, a road or a bridge. In the case of the NBP, the procurement process has involved the bidders developing and bringing forward both the technical solution and the deployment plan to deliver that solution. Learning from earlier interventions, such as the national broadband scheme and from experience internationally, Ireland has adopted an ambitious and long-term approach to this project. As a communications sector project, the NBP is unique in its ambition.

The Government set the bar high when it set out its ambition for the national broadband plan. While this meant that bringing forward a future-proofed solution would be complex and challenging, as we have witnessed, it also acted as a catalyst to encourage very significant investment by commercial operators in deployment of high-speed broadband networks. It is without question that the pace and nature of the deployment of high-speed broadband networks by commercial operators in the past two years has been significantly influenced by the Government’s intervention through the national broadband plan. That is a welcome development for Ireland and, as a direct response to the ambition set by this Government, the services now being rolled out by commercial operators are offering a basic service of in excess of 100 Mbps download speeds.

The national broadband plan procurement process was launched following a comprehensive consultation with commercial operators on their plans to serve premises in the potential intervention area. At that point, the map included approximately 757,000 premises. While the procurement was ongoing, Eir came forward with a further commercial plan to build a high-speed broadband network to serve 300,000 of those premises within the planned State intervention area. Eir’s submission was evaluated by my Department in accordance with the criteria that apply to the NBP mapping process and was found to be a credible plan. As a consequence, and in keeping with state aid rules, the map had to be revised to remove these 300,000 premises. This is evidence of an aspect of the complexity of managing a procurement process to address a clear market failure, when commercial companies can continue to bring forward investment plans in parallel with the procurement process.

For the people, schools and businesses located within the Eir rural deployment area, Eir’s investment was very positive and today, based on recent information from Eir, approximately 220,000 premises have been passed and have access to a high speed broadband service as a result.

For the NBP procurement process, however, it added considerable complexity, did little to reduce the cost of building a State subsidised network, while considerably reducing potential revenues.

I appreciate the genuine interest of Deputies in seeing a successful outcome to the NBP procurement process and to the deployment of high-speed broadband services in every constituency of this country. The interest of Deputies is evident from the fact that since my appointment as Minister, I have replied to almost 750 parliamentary questions on broadband, many of them exhorting me to accelerate the procurement process, including almost 70 questions from Deputies Dooley, Stanley and Pringle.

There are 1.1 million Irish citizens waiting for the deployment of this future-proofed network which will have a fundamentally positive impact on their lives. The successful roll-out of high-speed broadband infrastructure will mean that the ability to live and work in any area in Ireland will not be constrained by a lack of connectivity. This is a goal we all want to achieve.

Evaluation of the final tender submission is ongoing and will be allowed the time required. On conclusion of the evaluation, my Department will make a recommendation to me on whether to appoint the bidder as preferred bidder and I will bring the matter to Government for decision.

Deputy Timmy Dooley: Information on Timmy Dooley Zoom on Timmy Dooley There are many questions about the Minister's relationship with the remaining bidder. On what other occasions did the Minister meet David McCourt, or representatives on his behalf?

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