Proposed NBP alternative nothing but hot eir

Fibre optic cable
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Due process won out over public shaming as the broadband debacle continues, says Niall Kitson

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3 July 2019 | 0

In Granahan McCourt we have a preferred bidder for the National Broadband Plan but we have yet to see any winners in business or consumer spaces. In fact, we have yet to see anything at all.

Here is the story so far: this all started in 2011 with a pot of €500 million to €1 billion and a goal of connecting 542,000 homes and businesses across the country by 2016. Tendering finally began in 2015 with eir, Siro, Enet-SSE (joined by investors John Laing Group and Granahan McCourt Capital), Imagine, and Gigabit Fibre.

Nine years on and we don’t have a network in place, when it arrives the state won’t have ultimate ownership, its goal of 30Mb/s is outdated and will cost an estimated €3 billion. Granahan McCourt, aka National Broadband Ireland, is the last bidder standing but founder and CEO David McCourt is more recognised for ending the tenure of Minister for Communications Denis Naughton than delivering on high-profile capital projects. The optics are not good.

Is there good news? Well we won’t have as many premises to cover. In 2017 eir swooped in and took 330,000 premises out of the NBP catchment. That’s awful nice of them but for they missed their hard target of 335,000 connections by the end of June 2019. It’s also safe to say those 330,000 premises are the most likely to turn a profit – leaving only the most remote customers to connect.

So we are eight years on from the NBP launch, we have a preferred bidder, just about, but nothing to show for it.

Then last week eir stepped in with something about being able to do the job for €1.5 billion and everyone went crazy.

Of course, it was bunk.

Again, here’s the short version: eir said it could cut costs of customer service, infrastructure rental, decrease the catchment and deliver savings on network build out – using strategies like omitting ghost estates that the market will get around to serving eventually.

Sure, eir could deliver a cheaper NBP but with little oversight, change to its current operating model or commitment to serve the entire country – all wrapped up in a nine-page document. Sure they could. As anyone who has dealt with their customer service can attest to.

This was never going to fly so you have to wonder what the point of it all was. The government was not going to be shamed into abandoning due process after eight years. Eir saying it would be able to deliver on its own terms only throws light on its current failing to reach the target it set itself back in 2016.

Maybe the point is that eir gets to wave its arms and say ‘at least we’re doing something’ and indeed it is. The company is expanding its customer base, creating jobs, and investing in its fibre-to-the-home network.

Alternatively, eir might be trying to get the Government to abandon the plan, drop National Broadband Ireland, and let the market sort things out. Because that worked so well before.

Did it work? Oh no, it didn’t.

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