Time to disconnect the National Broadband Plan

Fibre optic cable
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2 August 2018 | 0

Niall Kitson portraitWhenever I write about the National Broadband Plan these days it’s in the context of a player abandoning the tender process. I thought eir’s departure, leaving enet/SSE as the lone bidder would bring about the end of a ‘zombie’ process and send the government back to the consultation stages. This week’s departure of SSE from the enet bid is continued evidence of industry frustration with the process. Rightly so, we are two years on from the submission of revised bids and a full year behind schedule on the announcement of a successful bid.

In the meantime the market moved on. The overall goal of delivering 30Mb/s broadband to unconnected rural areas remains but the nature of the project has changed. In a controversial move, eir moved in on 300,000 premises that could be considered ‘low hanging fruit’ (ie easily connected) and took them out of the NBP catchment. Siro had by then dropped out of the process to focus with its own fibre-to-the-building initiative, delivering 1Gb/s connectivity to 50 towns around the country.┬áThe NBP isn’t about presenting a market rife for exploration anymore, it’s a list of remote high-cost, low-return districts abandoned by competitive operators who got tired of hanging about.

So what next? Minister for Communications, Climate Action & Environment Denis Naughten insists the search for a network operator hasn’t ended and that the state’s completion deadline of 2023 has not changed. This is magical thinking. If enet wants a 25-year contract to rescue a PR disaster they should be let at it. Winning by default is still winning. Right?

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