By Pádraig Hoare
The exchequer, SMEs and retailers are missing out on millions of euro in potential revenue because of stalled progress on the National Broadband Plan (NBP), according to industry figures as the Government remains coy on when the contract will finally be awarded.
Despite Minister for Communications, Denis Naughten saying the tender process for the contract was in its “final stages” in a series of answers to parliamentary questions since October 2017, there is still no date earmarked.
When asked if a timeframe for the contract to be awarded had been decided, the department said it was still in the process.
“The procurement process to appoint a company to deliver the NBP State intervention is being progressed within procurement guidelines and to a best practice standard. It will be concluded as efficiently and expeditiously as possible and a decision published at the earliest opportunity,” a department statement said.
The NBP has been beset by problems since it was first mooted in 2012.
Three bidders — Eir, Siro, and Enet — entered the tendering process to be granted the contract to roll out the programme, but a decision has been delayed on a number of occasions.
Enet is now the sole bidder. Eir followed Siro, a joint venture between Vodafone and the ESB, which had previously pulled out.
Enet has insisted it remains firmly committed to the project. It is believed the costing of the plan, estimated as high as over €1bn, is still being ironed out between the Government and Enet.
Despite the delay, the Government said most homes and businesses will be broadband-enabled by 2021.
More than 450,000 homes and businesses will rely on the plan to get broadband coverage, most prominently in rural areas.
Chief executive of lobby group Retail Excellence, Lorraine Higgins said broadband was critical to the future of Irish retailers, but that the Republic was already “behind the curve” when it came to SMEs taking advantage of the migration to online shopping.
"With many wanting to move to an omnichannel retail offering, their plans are being held up because of the lack of broadband infrastructure. What we are seeing is Irish consumers buying online in huge quantities from businesses outside of this country."
“Currently two-thirds of all online spend is being fulfilled by retailers outside of Ireland, so the delay in broadband delivery is not only costing Irish retailers, but the exchequer too in lost taxes,” Ms Higgins said.
Chief executive of Cork-based telecoms firm Nova Broadband, Dave McDonald said there was “absolutely no hope” of broadband now being rolled out to all homes by 2021.
“The plan was scheduled to be completed in 2015, but there isn’t a shovel in the ground yet. The NBP is a very good concept because it has forced commercial operators to up their game for people in hard-to-reach areas. However, the process is now in moving statue territory — people will only believe in when they see it. Consumers will have to think about their options, because there is no hope the plan will be rolled out in three years with 450,000 homes and businesses that are very difficult to reach as it is.
“The politicians and Enet are saying they are committed to the process, so hose relying on the plan need to know where they stand at this late stage,” said Mr McDonald.