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Irelands National Broadband Plan

Since the government has declared that Broadband access will become a right to every household in Ireland by 2020 similar to other utilities like water and electricity, there is a need to act fast to make this a reality. What informs the collaboration between commercial and state interests is the fact that commercial providers of broadband have asserted that there are some areas of the country, which would not offer any monetary incentive for operators.

Through State intervention, high-speed broadband Internet will be provided to all households in the Ireland where the broadband network is not yet available. There are many locations which lack a high speed internet connection in Ireland, the likes of Kerry, where eir expanded their fibre broadband penetration back in 2012.

With the government seeking to provide businesses and homes with no less than 30Mbps, the NBP represents the government’s most ambitious and complex infrastructure project in several decades. The project will ensure that no household lacks access by addressing the connectivity challenge once and for all, in a meaningful and sustainable manner.

What has been achieved so Far?

Since 2012, the NBP infrastructure project has been moving forward at a brisk pace. The Government published a Draft Intervention in July 2015 setting out the goals that the project needs to achieve. This was followed by a public consultation that resulted in the publishing of an updated Draft Strategy on 22nd December 2015.

The determinations published in the revised strategy were due to discussions with about 70 interested parties that included agencies, companies, and members of the public. The revised plan also takes into account reports written by experts that were consulted on the project after the public consultation.

Some of the proposals of the draft strategy included the need to perform a full Strategic Environmental Assessment and Appropriate Assessment. This is required by the Habitats Directive 92/43/EEC and the SEA Directive 2001/42/EC for all projects of such magnitude.

The Draft Resolution also included results of consultations on how the high-speed broadband map would be managed. It includes proposals on how the stakeholders will manage the high-speed broadband map before 2020, after and during the procurement period.

As it currently stands, we are still at the early stages of the procurement phase. With six steps in the procurement procedure, only the prequalification questionnaires and invitation to submit draft tenders have been completed. The next stage is the shortlisting of the different broadband consortia that have the capacity to provide the high-speed broadband services. It is expected that by 2017, the tender will have been awarded to the winning bidders so that work on The National Broadband Plan (NBP) can begin.

Plans for the Future

Once the NBP contract is awarded and built, it will belong to the successful bidders of the 25-year long contract. From the Irish government’s perspective, foregoing the concession ownership for a commercial stimulus model (gap funding) offers value for money and future proofing. Had the government gone the concession route and owned the broadband infrastructure, it would have had to take up to 500 to 600 million Euros on its balance sheet. This would have impacted the provision of vital services such as health and housing.

After the tender is awarded, the government will engage the winning bidder to deploy as fast as possible on an optimum rollout strategy. Preliminary consultations with suppliers and stakeholders indicate that a complete deployment may be achieved within three to five years after the contract is awarded to the winning bidder.

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