Tag Archives: National Broadband Plan

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar (right) with David McCourt, who is leading the consortium that is the only bidder for the National Broadband Plan at Science Foundation event in new York in 2016

Hmm.

Previously: ‘An All-Too Familiar Vista In Major Communications Contracts’

From top: light blue areas are where Eir has ‘committed’ to commercial rural deployment plans, amber areas are the target areas for the state Intervention of the National Broadband Plan and blue areas are where commercial operators are delivering or have indicated plans to deliver high speed broadband services; Catherine Murphy in the Dáil last night

Last night.

A Social Democrat motion calling for a “Government commitment that any National Broadband Plan roll-out will prioritise affordability for homes and businesses in rural Ireland” was debated in the Dáil.

Social Democrat co-leader addressed Minister for Communications Richard Bruton about the “laissez-faire approach to the original tendering and contract process”.

Investors in the only consortium left in the process include Denis O’Brien.

Ms Murphy said:

“Although the Minister for Communications, Climate Action and Environment, Deputy Bruton, has not been in his current role for very long, I know he appreciates that the national broadband plan process has been ongoing for several years but many people in modern Ireland still have limited or no access to the tools required to participate in a modern society and economy.

It is crucial that we deliver broadband to such people. However, I cannot emphasise enough that we must do so through an unimpeachable process in which the veracity of the winning bidder and its ability to deliver long term are verified as well in a way that focuses on the net result for consumers, particularly in terms of affordability and broadband speed.

There is no point going ahead with the process if an average household will not be able to afford to connect to the infrastructure that is finally put in place or the network ultimately proves inadequate.

This must be about empowering our citizens to connect to a globalised world in their business and personal endeavours.

The process must guarantee the ability of the winning bidder to deliver the project or else the Exchequer will end paying by way of a State subsidy and-or citizens will pay the price of not being able to connect to broadband.

We must remember that if the contract is awarded, it will run for a considerable period of time. If we do not get it right, it could be very problematic to reverse it and doing so may involve the payment of compensation.

The old adage is that one must learn from past mistakes, yet nothing in the broadband process to date gives me confidence that we will not repeat current and past mistakes when it comes to the tendering process and the eventual awarding of the contract.

The results of the clearly flawed process for the development of the National Children’s Hospital are coming home to roost, involving colossal cost overruns, deadlines that have been missed on more occasions than I care to count and serious frustrations on all sides of the project.

Members on this side of the House are being asked to blindly trust the people responsible for projects such as the national children’s hospital to make the final decision on the national broadband plan. The metro north project went through a similarly incoherent and rocky process involving numerous incarnations and setbacks.

The same can be said of Luas and the eventual need for a cross-city Luas line which had been included on the original plans. In fact, there are myriad projects to which one could point as examples of the continued inability of this State to get major projects right first time. I acknowledge that this did not all happen on the Minister’s watch. There is ongoing failure in regard to such projects.

The penny must drop that we need to look at what we have been doing wrong in regard to such failures rather than just blame it on a system failure. If there is a system failure, one must fix the system.

The problems that have emerged with the national children’s hospital, for example, are not in the main resultant from something that happened after the project began. The major cause of the issues is a laissez faire approach to the tender and contract process before the project commenced.

If one does not ensure that the design plan, building blocks and builder are the correct choices, one will have a less than satisfactory outcome. That is why this period in the life cycle of the national broadband plan is of such importance. If we do not get things right now, we will pay the price at a later stage.

We have a one-off chance before any contracts are awarded to ask whether we can stand over the process to date and genuinely believe that the process as it stands will deliver the best possible outcome for users and the Exchequer.

All Members are aware of the significant and serious questions which arose during 2017 regarding the handling of the national broadband plan by the then Minister, Deputy Naughten. At the crescendo of the controversy, I, as well as members of Fianna Fáil and other Deputies, stated that the national broadband plan was fatally flawed.

The Government commissioned a report by Mr. Peter Smyth in a bid to prove otherwise and reassure people that the Minister attending various dinner parties and exchanging regular private calls and texts with the owner of the sole remaining bidder was not a problem.

At the time, I raised concerns about the ability of Peter Smyth to be entirely impartial in his report because he was the process auditor throughout the process which caused the controversy. It was a process failure and he was auditing that process.

When the Smyth report was furnished to the House, most Members were underwhelmed by its watery findings. In the absence of minutes or a written record of many of the interactions between the then Minister, Deputy Naughten, the Minister of State, Deputy Breen, and Mr. David McCourt, Mr. Smyth took the key players at their word that nothing inappropriate had occurred.

When Mr. Smyth commented at a follow-up press conference that he did not interrogate the then Minister or Mr. David McCourt because he did not think it appropriate to do so, he significantly undermined the veracity of the report and left serious question marks over the relationship between a Minister and a billionaire businessman – an all-too familiar vista in major communications contracts. In that regard, we must consider the learnings, or lack thereof, from past mistakes.

In the same way, we must look to the forerunner of the national broadband plan and ensure the lessons from its roll out and operation inform the broadband plan.

The municipal area networks, MANs, project was established in 2004 and contract extensions to run to 2030 were awarded to Enet in 2016. There remain question marks and ongoing court proceedings regarding the detail behind those contracts and their extension. However, in spite of orders by the information commissioner and the High Court to release the details in the public interest, the Department has continually refused to so do.

It has brought an appeal to the Court of Appeal – which, obviously, will be a costly exercise – to keep information the release of which has been determined to be in the public interest out of the public eye. Such secrecy rings warning bells and flies in the face of the stated ambition of an open government or governance approach to the process.

Leaving aside the significant questions regarding the contract process for Enet and the MANs, there are question marks over the operation, efficiency and usefulness of the plan in terms of the end user take-up of the networks.

In 2014, BT Ireland wrote to the Department expressing serious concerns regarding how Enet was operating the municipal area networks.

Several people and businesses, including public bodies, were unable to connect to the network due to the prohibitive cost.

Many industry experts have questioned the scale, coverage and take-up of the MANs across the country.

Those living in the intervention area should pay serious attention to this because if we do not learn from that process, exactly the same thing may happen with the national broadband plan.

A recent freedom of information dump from the Department to The Irish Times journalist Jack Horgan-Jones included a briefing note prepared for the then Minister in 2016 ahead of a meeting he was due to have with Mr. David McCourt who, at the time, was heading the consortium which had acquired Enet, which was operating the MANs.

The briefing note was prepared two years after BT Ireland, a major telecoms player with significant expertise, outlined to the Department its serious concerns regarding the operation of the MANs by Enet.

The briefing note of 2016 makes absolutely no reference to those concerns and states the MANs programme has proven effective. It has not proven effective if concerns are being raised by businesses and individuals and if there is a proven difficulty with take-up and cost.

It is surely hard to argue that a briefing that fails to acknowledge the serious concerns of a major industry expert like BT is comprehensive. One cannot just ignore that.

Thus far, only part of one of the two Department-commissioned reports into the MANs, namely, the Norcontel report, has been put into the public domain. We are still awaiting the publication of the Analysys Mason report into the operation of the MANs.

It is ridiculous that we do not have the information to allow us to consider this issue adequately and determine what has gone wrong or right in order to inform our consideration of the contract. Very often one is an expert after completing a process but one really needs to be an expert in advance.

The documentation on the experience of the forerunner to the national broadband plan should seriously comprise one of the most important sets of documentation available to the Minister and Opposition. That such secrecy and obfuscation surrounds this process should be a concern in and of itself.

That the Minister and his Department have pushed two court appeals – it may well have been prior to the Minister’s tenure – rather than accepting the High Court judgment and a ruling of the information commissioner to release details of the MANs contracts with Enet should raise eyebrows.

That the Peter Smyth report is, by its author’s own admission, lacking in veracity should raise concerns in its own right.

That the process has found itself with only one remaining bidder should raise eyebrows. Surely a contract of this magnitude should have had competitors beating down the doors to win it, yet we are aware that major telecommunications players such as Eir and SIRO pulled out of the process.

They cited governance and regulatory concerns. Do we really know what those concerns are? Have they been properly interrogated? Have we satisfied ourselves as to what governance and regulatory concerns Eir and SIRO were referring to? I do not believe we have.

At my request, Eir has agreed to appear before the Committee of Public Accounts next month. SIRO has not accepted that invitation. Enet has agreed but with some significant caveats as to what it will and will not discuss.

As I understand it, there is no comprehensive map within the Department or regulator of the networks that might already exist or the take-up of broadband within those networks.

Surely it makes sense to have an audit of current capacity before ploughing ahead with anything new so we can reduce duplication and possibly cost. For example, the ESB rolled out a significant fibre-optic domestic network using EU funds.

Individuals with more technical knowledge than I have told me it would not be a major job to use those networks to tack on the necessary hardware for broadband capabilities…

Similarly, we are aware that Bord Gáis rolled out the Aurora network and that Esat laid lines across parts of the country – for example, between Ballina and Tubbercurry.

Again, this was with EU funding. Eir is currently providing fibre-optic cabling to areas it deems economically viable in terms of its bottom line. What consideration, if any, has been given to the possibility of using any, or all, of these networks, even for a partial rolling out of broadband?

As I understand it, the ESB domestic fibre-optic network was established at a cost of €59 million. To date, has any discussion taken place between the ESB and the Department about the potential use of those networks?

The MANs, despite being operated by Enet, comprise a State-owned asset. Surely we must ensure that any current or future use of the infrastructure must oblige the user benefiting from the public finances to provide the service to all, regardless of the cost to the provider.

Having said that, I am acutely aware of the warning given at a conference by one of the consortia. It said a genuine discussion needed to take place on rolling out broadband to the last 15% of the country in terms of economic viability.

It said we needed to have an honest discussion about that. I would like to hear the possible impediments in this regard. I am sure they would have been articulated in outlining the problems with the roll-out.

Rural areas are affected but not-so-rural areas are also affected. Pockets of my constituency, which is really seen as the commuter belt area, are affected. The constituency is not exactly the most rural part of the country but it has pockets with very unreliable broadband.

Therefore, it is not an exclusively rural issue. Even in this city, there are spots where broadband is not particularly good. The required service can be guaranteed only if we get this process right while we have a chance.

Otherwise, we might find that a consortium of self-interested businesspeople will be given free reign to choose when and where it suits it to prioritise and how affordable it decides to make the end product.

There are those who are not taking up the MANs because of affordability. I cannot emphasise this enough.

It is very obvious that there is a really serious problem of institutional deficiency in the oversight of capital projects. There are some areas in which we do reasonably well because there is much expertise, such as roads, but with regard to some of the other projects it is as if we are spending Monopoly money, not the people’s real money.

We have got to be prudent about the process; otherwise it is going to be costly and will potentially not deliver on what has been promised.”

Minister Bruton’s response here

Last night: Broadband On The Run

This evening.

Earlier…


From top: Social Democrat co-leaders Catherine Murphy (left) and Roisin Shorthall at Leinster House this morning; Social Democrat motion on the National Broadband Plan

This morning.

The Social Democrats have introduced a Dáil motion (above) – to be debated this evening – calling for a “Government commitment that any National Broadband Plan roll-out will prioritise affordability for homes and businesses in rural Ireland”.

Party co-leader Catherine Murphy TD said:

“People in rural Ireland are desperate for reliable and sustainable broadband but they will only be guaranteed such a service if we get the National Broadband plan contract award process right while we have this chance.

We have to ensure that the process of awarding the contract is totally beyond reproach. There is no point in going ahead with a process if, when the infrastructure is finally in place, an average household cannot afford to connect to the network.”

Deputy Murphy added:

“The problems we are now witnessing with the National Children’s Hospital for example are not the result of something that happened after the project began. They are the result of a laissez-faire approach to the original tendering and contract process.”

Previously: National Broadband Plan on Broadsheet

From top: Peter Smyth; Fianna Fáil TD Timmy Dooley, People Before Profit TD Bríd Smith, Green Party TD Eamon Ryan, Senator Michael McDowell and Sinn Féin TD Brian Stanley

Peter Smyth, who reviewed communications between the former Minister for Communications Denis Naughten and businessman David McCourt of Granahan McCourt, took questions from members of an Oireachtas committee.

The purpose of the procurement process auditor’s review was to see if the communications between Mr Naughten and Mr McCourt tainted the NBP procurement process.

At the outset of yesterday’s meeting, Mr Smyth stated:

“I am satisfied that the process itself is safe…I do believe the process is untainted by the meetings between the former minister and Mr McCourt.”

But as questions were put to Mr Smyth by several TDs and Senators – including Fianna Fáil TD Timmy Dooley, People Before Profit TD Bríd Smith, Sinn Féin TD Brian Stanley, Green Party TD Eamon Ryan and Senator Michael McDowell – Mr Smyth faltered.

It emerged that Mr Smyth did not hold any face-to-face meetings with any of the people with whom he discussed these meetings.

Instead, he conducted his review, over four weeks, via phone calls, texts and emails.

The people with whom Mr Smyth spoke to did not give him sworn statements.

He explained his process doesn’t require him to ask people to make sworn statements.

In his review, Mr Smyth said he could only take Mr Naughten and Mr McCourt’s word for what was discussed at two one-on-one meetings and one phone call – communications for which there are no minutes, notes or no third party to verify what was or wasn’t discussed.

Mr Smyth also told the committee that, as a process auditor who has carried out many process examinations during his career, he’s never made a finding against any process.

Fianna Fáil TD Timmy Dooley first raised the department’s own communications protocol for the procurement process or “rules of engagement” and asked if the rules were broken.

Specifically, he asked about the rule that says direct or indirect “canvassing” by a bidder is prohibited.

He pointed out that if a bidder was found to have been canvassing the department, the bidder would be immediately disqualified from the process.

Mr Smyth said:

I formed the view that the meetings don’t amount to canvassing.”

Mr Dooley raised the dinner meeting in Clare, on September 16, 2017, between Mr Naughten and Mr McCourt, which was also attended by Minister for State Pat Breen, who set up the meeting, at Mr McCourt’s home in Clare.

At this point, in September 2017,  there were two other bidders seeking the contract for the NBP.

In his review, Mr Smyth found that this meeting took place outside the procurement process.

Mr Dooley said to Mr Smyth:

“The average punter on the street cannot accept, absolutely, think that, you and everybody else believe in fairytales if you think that, at no time, during that kind of encounter that there was no discussion whatsoever about the NBP.”

If the NBP was discussed, at that particular point… would you accept that that would have given considerable rise to concern while there were two other bidders in the race?

Mr Smyth said he would accept that.

Mr Dooley also raised the meeting between the two men in New York, on July 16, 2018, which was set up by Mr McCourt, where they did discuss the NBP procurement process when no member of the NBP process was present.

Continue reading

This afternoon.

Peter Smyth (top) is appearing before the Joint Oireachtas Committee on Communications, Climate Action and Environment – streaming LIVE above.

Mr Smyth examined the interactions between the former Minister for Communications Denis Naughten and businessman David McCourt, founder and chairman of Granahan McCourt – the last remaining consortium bidding for the National Broadband Plan – as a means to decipher if the engagements undermined the NBP procurement process.

Mr Smyth found that the fact Mr Naughten met with Mr McCourt, or representatives of the other bidders “outside of the process is not in and of itself a basis for finding that the procurement process has been tainted”.

Mr Smyth has already told the committee that he never met Mr Naughten or Mr McCourt face to face during his investigation.

He told deputies that he did not regard their encounters as evidence of ‘canvassing’, but was unable to define what he meant by ‘canvassing’.

In his investigation, Mr Smyth found, as he had to take Mr Naughten and Mr McCourt’s word for what was discussed at two one-to-one meetings and one telephone call:

“I cannot unequivocally state that the State-led intervention under the NBP was not discussed at the meetings between the former minister and Mr McCourt outside of the procurement process.”

Mr Smyth also found Mr Naughten’s decision to resign largely allowed for the process to go ahead as his stepping down “insulates the process from any apparent bias created by his engagements with Mr McCourt”.

Oireachtas webcasting is provided by the Houses of the Oireachtas Service, in association with HEAnet, Ireland’s National Educational and Research Network

Previously: Faulty Leakage



From top; David McCourt and Denis Naughten; tweet from Government official Fergal Mulligan responding to a Sunday Business Post article on the National Broadband Plan bidding process;

The Dáil heard statements last night on Peter Smyth’s report into the National Broadband Plan procurement process.

Several TDs raised tweets posted by a Fergal Mulligan in response to an article in the Sunday Business Post.

Mr Mulligan called the story “a lot of theoretical nonsense” and that “we” had “dropped 20 million getting the right advice” on what was the “only game in town”.

Yesterday, The Times Ireland edition reported that Mr Mulligan is a senior government official and programme director for the National Broadband Plan.

Fianna Fáil TD Timmy Dooley was the first yesterday to raise the matter:

Timmy Dooley: “The account in question has, I understand, tweeted around five times since it was created. The communications protocol I outlined earlier states that, as a general matter, members of the NBP team shall not discuss or communicate in any way matters relating to the procurement outside of the NBP team.

…It goes on to state that where communications with a third party takes place, whether oral or written, involving a member of the NBP team, the NBP team member will state that they cannot discuss any matters relating to the procurement process. Can the Minister confirm that this person is in fact who he says he is on Twitter?

“Has he carried out any investigation to establish that? Does he believe it is appropriate for the programme director to engage in this kind of communication at this stage of the process? Why did the programme director take it upon himself to make these unsolicited comments?”

Continue reading

 

From top: Former Minister for Communications Denis Naughten, David McCourt, journalist Justine McCarthy

Tomorrow.

In the Dáil.

Statements about Peter Smyth’s review of the National Broadband Plan procurement process are scheduled to be made by TDs from 6.05pm.

Mr Smyth was tasked with examining the interactions between the former Minister for Communications Denis Naughten and businessman David McCourt, founder and chairman of Granahan McCourt – which is leading the last remaining consortium bidding for the National Broadband Plan.

The purpose of the review was to see if their interactions, many of which were over meals, undermined the integrity of the procurement process.

The review found they didn’t.

Further to this.

Yesterday, in The Sunday Times

Justine McCarthy, in an opinion column, wrote that there was a “confusing tone to Smyth’s report” given that Mr Smyth didn’t name the six people who dined with Mr McCourt and Mr Naughten – even though the Department of Communications named them two months ago.

They were ministerial officials Leslie Carberry and Seána Geraghty, and special advisers Suzanne Coogan and Jean Andrews. Mr McCourt’s brother Frank and daughter Alexandra accompanied Mr McCourt.

Ms McCarthy asked:

“How much will the plan cost the public? Is it €500m, €1bn or €3bn, as have been variously reported?

“Who conducted the reappraisal of the process earlier this year, giving it the all-clear after the other bidders withdrew? (The department has refused a freedom of information request by The Sunday Times for details of the reappraisal.)

“Smyth concluded that Naughten’s resignation as minister in October militated against any tainting of the process but, as Fianna Fail’s Timmy Dooley has pointed out, McCourt was also bound by the rules and he remains in the process. How can that be reconciled?

“Naughten says he informed Varadkar about all his meetings with McCourt on the Sunday night before he resigned from the cabinet. The taoiseach disputes this. Now Smyth’s report reveals nine phone conversations between Naughten and McCourt which had not previously been disclosed to the public. Is there anything else we have not been told?

“According to Smyth’s report, there was a phone call between the two men on August 8 this year, following a meeting of process participants that day. McCourt was seeking “confirmation of the government’s ongoing commitment to [its] completion”. Why did he need reassurance? Had what transpired at the meeting caused doubt?

“On February 28 this year, McCourt met the secretary general of Naughten’s department to discuss his consortium’s commitment to the process after rival bidder Eir pulled out. That night McCourt, Naughten and his press adviser dined together in Dublin. Smyth’s report says they discussed a media studio in Trinity College. What else did they talk about?”

Justine McCarthy: Lack of communication over broadband contract shows poor connection (Justine McCarthy, The Sunday Times)

Rollingnews

Last night.

On RTÉ’s Six One News.

Journalist Paul Cunningham interviewed former Minister for Communications Denis Naughten about Peter Smyth’s report into the National Broadband Plan procurement process and Mr Naughten’s engagements with David McCourt.

Watch back in full here

Naughten met with bidder to ‘keep them at the table’ (RTE)

Previously: Breaking His Own Rules

Cleared

‘David Already There’

Whatsapp messages released to Social Democrats co-leader Catherine Murphy under the Freedom of Information Act gives further details on the New York meeting between former minister for communications Denis Naughten (top left) and businessman David McCourt, which led to Mr Naughten’s resignation

This morning.

Via The Irish Examiner:

Social democrat TD Catherine Murphy, said it was only through her persistence that the thread of messages, many of which are punctuated with emoji, were released.

“In recent months I submitted a large volume of different and very specific freedom of information requests on various aspects of the former minister’s conduct throughout the National Broadband Plan process,” she said.

With the exception of a handful, they have all either been declined, sent back for rewording, or have asked for what are already narrow timeframes to be narrowed further.

“Every obstacle in the FoI Act has been put in front of me regarding getting access to basic information, such as the former minister and his official’s interactions with David McCourt, Granahan McCourt, and Enet.”

In declining to grant access to some of the conversation, Murphy was told that “pictures on the WhatsApp messages [such as] refreshments, individuals, and minors” had been removed.

Murphy said she has now been left with more questions than answers.

“I am also anxious to understand if I have been left short of screenshots of the group on the day in question,” she said.

So what happened in the Big Apple, Denis? (Daniel McConnell, Irish Examiner)

Denis Naughten FoI details show US meeting (Irish Examiner)

Previously: ‘Cleared’



Minister for Communications, Climate Action and Environment Richard Bruton speaking at Government Buildings after Peter Smyth’s Report on his review into the procurement process for the National Broadband Plans was published; Soc Dem co-leader Catherine Murphy talks to media after the announcement.

Demanding a special Dáil debate next Tuesday, Fianna Fáil leader Micheál Martin said the findings do not “stack up”, Labour’s Brendan Howlin that it would be “reckless” to push ahead, and Social Democrats TD Catherine Murphy said questions remain unanswered.

In his first public comments since he was forced to resign last month, Mr Naughten yesterday said he has been vindicated.

Noting the report said he “did not influence or seek to influence” the tender process”, he urged the Government to push ahead with the “not tainted” high-speed broadband roll-out plan.

However, a spokesperson for Taoiseach Leo Varadkar said he “considers it a partial or qualified vindication”.

Asked if Mr Naughten could return to Cabinet, he said: “There is no vacancy.”

Opposition: Broadband bid review a whitewash (Irish Examiner)

Yesterday: ‘Cleared’

Rollingnews