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Committee recommends broadband network remain in public ownership

Committee recommends broadband network remain in public ownership

A report carried out by the Oireachtas Committee on Communications has recommended that the broadband network infrastructure remain in public ownership.

The committee carried out an investigation into the Government’s decision to award preferred bidder status on the multi-billion euro national broadband contract to Granahan McCourt.

The aim of the project is to deliver high speed broadband to 540,000 households, farms and other businesses.

The Government has said the contract for the National Broadband Plan will be signed later this year.

In the report, the committee has recommended that the Government commission an external, independent review on whether its proposals and the costs are the only viable option.

It also says a new cost-benefit analysis should be carried out before the final national broadband contract is signed.

The committee also says the Government should re-engage with the ESB to examine the best model for delivery of a new plan through the ESB.

The report concluded that the original terms of the tender were too narrow.

It found that the lack of research into the actual cost of the final project proved to be a structural flaw and it said this lad to bidders withdrawing.

The report says Granahan McCourt will recoup its money within seven to eight years and retain full ownership, while at the same time the State will have invested almost €3 billion with no ownership rights.

The report also raises concerns over just one State representative being appointed to the board of the new National Broadband Ireland group overseeing the plan.

It said the committee accepts that changing the final bid so that ownership of the network is retained by the State may require a slight delay to the signing of contracts.

However, the report says there should be no reason why this could not be achieved in a much shorter period than has been suggested.

The Department of Communications says it will consider the committee’s report when it is published.

A Government source said the recommendations in the report would mean abandoning the current process and starting again, which it said could take years.

Earlier, Fine Gael TD and committee chairperson Hildegarde Naughton had called members to support her recommendation for the Government to press ahead and sign the contracts as soon as possible.

She said there was no evidence that indicated any reliable, cheaper alternative to the NBP.

Green Party leader Eamon Ryan was seeking cross-party support to ensure State ownership of the network.

Fianna Fáil’s Timmy Dooley said he was concerned that the operator would recoup its money after seven to eight years carrying very little risk and will retain full ownership.

TDs and senators also echoed concerns contained in the report over just one State representative being appointed to the board.

Sinn Féin’s David Cullinane said Eir’s claim that it could provide the NBP for less than €1bn was unproven.

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