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The government has published the [heavily redacted] details of the National Broadband Plan contract

Much of the contract is redacted due to “commercially sensitive” material.

THE LONG-AWAITED details of the contract for the controversial National Broadband Plan have been published by the Department of Communications, albeit with a number of heavy redactions on “commercially sensitive” material.

The government signed off on the €3 billion plan late last year, after a controversial bidding process led to a number of delays – and the resignation of a government minister.

The details published as part of the contract between the government and National Broadband Ireland – chaired by David McCourt – run to over 1,000 pages. Of the 50 schedules in the contract, 13 were fully redacted and 16 were partially redacted. Just 21 were published in full.

The plan aims to initially set up 300 broadband connection points in community settings such as GAA clubs, community centres and public libraries.

These hubs will provide free high-speed broadband to people living in rural areas until broadband is delivered to their homes under the multi-billion euro plan.

Other subcontractors listed as part of the project include Eir, Enet, Kelly Comms, KN Network Services and Denis O’Brien owned Actavo Ltd.

Under the section of the contract dubbed “policy objectives”, it sets out a number of requirements that must be filled.

This includes that the infrastructure is “capable of providing high quality, reliable and affordable high speed broadband for 100% of premises in the intervention area”. 

It must also be “consistent with the provision of value for money in line with industry best practice”.

There is also a requirement on the contractor to “stimulate demand” for the broadband infrastructure it builds. It should create “initiatives or incentivise early takeup” from the country’s broadband providers.

This could take the form of waiving or reducing the connection fee which should then be passed on to customers. Another incentive could include allowing homes and businesses to register their interest to be connected as soon as possible.

A map included in one section shows an area (in amber below) with at least 540,000 premises requiring a high speed connection.

nbp

The plan also lists 110 “rollout areas” dividing the country into sections where broadband should be delivered.

rollout areas The rollout areas for the National Broadband Plan

However, numerous parts of the contract are heavily redacted.

The contract stipulates a number of milestones that must be reached for what are dubbed “strategic community points” but these are redacted.

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scps

On the next page, there’s a requirement for the number of premises reached each quarter. This is also redacted.

milestones

Details on subsidy payments to contractors are withheld due to “commercial sensitivity”. Furthermore, how “performance levels” and “operational performance” are set out in the contract is withheld.

Sections on the “consequences of termination” and “termination events” have not been published. 

The last Fine Gael government was heavily criticised for the contract, with the opposition calling on the broadband network to be publicly owned as the State is investing such a significant amount in the project.

Prior to entering government, now-Communications Minister Eamon Ryan expressed a preference for an option of “retaining the network in public ownership”. The Greens said in their election manifesto that it would “implement the plan” while “exercising all available options to minimise the cost and maximise the use of the new service”.

While Micheál Martin had referred to the plan as “farcical” in May 2019, Fianna Fáil’s manifesto prior to the election said it would “uphold our contractual obligations and ensure it is delivered as quickly as possible”.

The first homes are due to be connected under the National Broadband Plan towards the end of the this year, or the start of 2021. 

About the author:

Sean Murray

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