THE NATIONAL BROADBAND plan hit another bump in the road over the weekend when energy firm SSE revealed it has pulled out of the tender process for the project.
The utility company was one part of a consortium – led by David McCourt’s Enet – bidding for the infrastructure project. The cohort of firms was the sole bidder left for the contract after Eir withdrew from the running.
In a statement confirming the move, SSE said: “We wish our former consortium partners and the government well as they continue to progress discussions for the delivery of this important infrastructure project for Ireland.”
Minutes before this statement was released yesterday afternoon, Enet confirmed that the group is still bidding for the contract and now comprises of Granahan McCourt, John Laing plc and the Irish Infrastructure Fund.
Attempting to steady the ship, David McCourt, chairman of Enet, emphasised that everything is “on track”.
“In building this consortium, we have brought together the best global expertise in building networks, particularly in telecoms, and in coordinating all of the elements required to finance a project of this size in partnership with government,” he said.
“As I’ve said before, the process is very much on track. We’re just weeks away from submitting our final tender. The team is very focused on concluding the procurement phase of this project and moving swiftly into delivery.”
Yesterday’s announcement was the latest blow to the project. Earlier this year, Eir also cast doubt on the future of the initiative, which plans to deliver high-speed broadband nationwide, when it pulled out of the running for the contract.
Eir has already rolled out company broadband – which is a higher quality, higher speed broadband – to 70% of homes across Ireland, with 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.
The government had placed a tender out for the remainder of the process, and two bidders were in the mix – Eir and Enet.
Eir, having proceeded with its own rural broadband rollout which took 300,000 premises off the list for the connectivity project, was thought to have been the most likely winner of the tender before it removed itself from the process.
At the time it withdrew from the race, Eir chief executive Richard Moat told Morning Ireland:
“We took this decision after a long process, it’s been going on for three years, and the contract that the process is based upon has been increasingly onerous. The overall investment environment was not conducive and we couldn’t make a business case stack up. So, regrettably, we had to pull out.”
Following on from SSE’s announcement yesterday, opposition parties hit out at the government.
Fianna Fáil’s communications spokesperson Timmy Dooley said the viability of the plan is “now under threat to such an extent that it is conceivable that no contract will be signed this side of 2020″.
“As of yet, SSE has not outlined its reasons for pulling out but it’s clear as night follows day that the process has to date been so convoluted and bureaucratic that every major commercial player has not felt comfortable continuing.”
Sinn Féin’s communications spokesperson Brian Stanley said the plan is “hanging on by a thread”, while his Labour counterpart Seán Sherlock said: “Public trust is shot to pieces and the broadband plan is in shambles, and citizens will bear the brunt of this latest failure.”
Yesterday a spokesperson for the department told RTÉ News the project is not at risk of failing and that the final tender is expected in the coming weeks.
Written by Órla Ryan and posted on TheJournal.ie. Additional reporting by Killian Woods.