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'It's full steam ahead' - Naughten pours cold water on Fianna Fáil calls for review of National Broadband Plan

Fianna Fáil’s communications spokesman Timmy Dooley had suggested that the procurement process should be halted in order to ‘review’ the tender.

2 Denis Naughten Source: Oireachtas TV

COMMUNICATIONS MINISTER DENIS Naughten has dismissed calls by Fianna Fáil for a review of the tendering process for the National Broadband Plan, saying it would cause further delays.

Last night Fianna Fáil’s communications spokesman Timmy Dooley brought a private member’s motion calling for the government to immediately stall the procurement process and review what has gone wrong in the roll-out of broadband.

In response, Naughten said that to conduct such a review would set back the whole process by six months, and would suggest that the sole remaining bidder for the tender is “not a suitable bidder”. “This is a group with considerable international experience,” he said.

The fact is that the Fianna Fáil motion would push this procurement process into 2019, and plunge the entire project into uncertainty.

Naughten defended his record regarding the broadband rollout, saying he is “the only TD who has consistently pursued this issue for the last two decades, and the record supports that”.

The most recent estimate for full rollout of the broadband plan is 2023.

Yesterday, Dooley said that the option of the State stepping in to provide broadband to the rural homes that are still not connected is one which needs to be considered.

Speaking on RTÉ Morning Ireland today, Naughten said that “we’re now at the end of the process”.

“It’s taken 25 months to get to this stage. At first we didn’t know the best possible solution,” he said, adding that that solution (fibre-based broadband) had been arrived at during the process.

Enet is the only bidder left in the process, they submitted their last amendments to the contracts a number of weeks ago. From now, it’s full steam ahead.

He added that he expects the vast majority of homes in Ireland to have full access to a high-speed network within two years.

“I would expect nine out of 10 homes will have access to high-speed broadband, with the final homes getting access to high-speed broadband soon after that,” he said.

Withdrawal

Last week, Eir announced that they were withdrawing their bid for the Rural Broadband Plan. The company has already rolled out fibre broadband – which is a higher quality, higher speed broadband, to 70% of homes across Ireland – but about 540,000 homes and businesses still remaining to be connected.

The National Broadband Plan aims to give 750,000 premises nationwide a minimum download speed of 30Mbps. This also covers Irish businesses that currently have no access to broadband from commercial operators.

Eir, having proceeded with its own rural broadband rollout which took 300,000 premises off the list for the State-subsided National Broadband Plan (NBP), was thought to have been the most likely winner of the tender, but since its withdrawal there is now only one remaining company in the tender process – Enet.

Read: Why did Eir quit the State’s broadband plan, and what now for rural Ireland?

Read: Sinn Féin politician defends describing Northern Ireland as a ‘putrid little statelet’

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