Tag Archives: National Broadband Plan

This afternoon

A report carried out by the Oireachtas Committee on Communications has recommended that the broadband network infrastructure remain in public ownership.

The Government has said the contract for the National Broadband Plan will be awarded to Granahan McCourt later this year.

[The report says Granahan McCourt will recoup its money within seven to eight years and retain full ownership, while at the same time the State will have invested almost €3 billion with no ownership rights]

In the report, the committee has recommended that the Government commission an external, independent review on whether its proposals and the costs are the only viable option.

It also says a new cost-benefit analysis should be carried out before the final national broadband contract is signed.

The committee also says the Government should re-engage with the ESB to examine the best model for delivery of a new plan through the ESB.

The report concluded that the original terms of the tender were too narrow.

Committee recommends broadband network remain in public ownership (RTÉ)

Earlier….

David McCourt with Taoiseach Leo Varadkar at a Science Foundation of Ireland event in New York, March 2018

The Oireachtas Joint Committee on Communications, Climate Action and Environment is sitting in private session today to discuss the National Broadband Plan and vote on a number of proposals in respect of the same.

It follows the committee carrying out an investigation into the plan and, in May, the Government awarding preferred bidder status to consortium Granahan McCourt, led by US businessman David McCourt.

Journalist Aisling Kenny told RTÉ’s News at One that chair of the committee, Fine Gael TD Hildegarde Naughton wants the committee to support her recommendation that the Government press ahead and sign the contracts as soon as possible.

Ms Kenny reported:

“She [Naughton] says there is no evidence to indicate any reliable, cheaper alternative to the National Broadband Plan.”

Ms Kenny also reported that other proposals include recommending that the State own the broadband infrastructure – after it spends €3billion on the plan.

Currently, it’s planned that, in the end, Granahan McCourt will own the infrastructure.

Ms Kenny reported that the committee’s final conclusions should be made public later this afternoon.

Committee vote due on State ownership of broadband network (RTE)

Listen back to News at One in full here

Previously: “There Should Be Judge-Led, Public Inquiries Into The Broadband Plan And The National Children’s Hospital”

From top: Denis O’Brien; CEO of Granahan McCourt, the preferred bidder for the National Broadband Plan, David McCourt and former Minister for Communications Denis Naughten; tables from the Public Accounts Committee’s latest periodic report

Yesterday, the Public Accounts Committee published its latest periodic report which included a chapter on the National Broadband Plan and its meetings about the same.

In the report, the committee said it was “unacceptable” that significant changes to the National Broadband Plan –  made without a new cost/benefit analysis test being carried out – resulted in escalated costs.

The PAC is recommending that a new cost/benefit analysis test be carried out before the final contract is signed.

It also found the procurement process “may have partly deterred parties interested in tendering for the project from doing so” and has called for the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform to carry out a review of the procurement process.

PAC found…

“As of 28 March 2019, the total expenditure on the NBP since 2013 was €25.4m. The Department [of Communications] informed the committee that the majority of the spend to date had been on consultancy fees.

“The committee was informed that the value-for-money requirement of the NBP was governed by the public procurement process but consultancy fees had risen since 2014.

“The NBP was issued for tender in December 2015. However, the plan has undergone what members considered to be significant changes since it was first explored and these changes have influenced the procurement process.

Continue reading

The Here’s How podcast

Host William Campbell (right) meets Fergal Mulligan (left), Programme Director of the National Broadband Plan at the Department of Communications.

William writes:

I ask Fergal who’s getting a good deal from the National Broadband Plan. He says why he thinks  it’s ‘a hell of a deal for Ireland’…

Listen here

Here’s How

Economist Colm McCarthy

This morning.

Jack Horgan-Jones, in The Irish Times, reports that the Department of Communications has said Eir’s €1bn proposal to deliver rural broadband – as an alternative to that of the more expensive Granahan McCourt’s National Broadband Plan – “has not met” the State’s criteria for the project.

It follows Peter O’Dwyer reporting in The Sunday Business Post yesterday that Eir – which was previously in the bidding process until it dropped out in January 2018 –  had rubbished the Government’s claim that up to 81,000 premises across Ireland would have to pay higher bills for high-speed fibre broadband under Eir’s plan. Eir said the figure would, instead, be 9,000.

CEO of Eir Carolan Lennon, who told an Oireachtas committee just last week that it could do the project for €1billion, has an op-ed piece in today’s Irish Times claiming it warned the Government about “unnecessary costs and complexity for almost two years while we were in the process”.

Ms Lennon writes:

“For €1 billion we could build a network which would pass all the rural premises in the NBP with high-speed broadband and connect all those who want it to their broadband provider of choice.

“We would use Eir’s existing infrastructure, rather than building over it like National Broadband Ireland has chosen to do. Most significantly we would use the expertise Eir has gained over the past three years rolling out fibre at pace and scale in rural Ireland, passing 340,000 rural premises later this summer (more than 70 per cent of the number of rural premises in the NBP).”

“…The vast majority of homes in rural Ireland already have an Eir connection and we would reuse the existing overhead or underground plant where available. This would deliver affordable connections to customers across rural Ireland but be cheaper than the NBP approach because it reuses existing infrastructure rather than building new connections.”

Meanwhile, yesterday, on RTÉ Radio One’s Marian, hosted by Brendan O’Connor…

During a segment on the National Broadband Plan, economist Colm McCarthy called for a judge-led inquiries into the cost overruns for both the National Broadband Plan and the National Children’s Hospital.

He said:

“Every time there is a really big cock-up in the Irish public capital programme – and there have been lots of them, the National Children’s Hospital was another one – there doesn’t seem to be a threshold, above which the Government says ‘we really should have a detailed inquiry going back to the beginning in this case’.

“And I think we should.

I think there should be a judge-led public, sworn, inquiry into both the broadband plan and the National Children’s Hospital.

“…The temptation always is to say, ‘ah sure what’s €2bn or what’s €1bn on the national….sign the cheque and God is good and we’re off to the elections’ and so on.

The cock-ups, just this year, have been so big that it’s a wake-up call to anybody. We have a great big National Development Plan, a great big public capital programme, heading for €7bn per annum to be spent on all sorts of different kinds of infrastructure.

“There is no chance of a rational, careful programme of public investment here in the years ahead unless the errors that have arisen in these two cases are fully documented, names are named and the lessons are drawn to avoid a repetition.

We’ve been screwing up things in the public capital programme, Brendan, since I was a kid. There have been shocking cost overruns, huge mistakes made…”

“…it is feasible to learn the lessons from these two fiascos.”

Eir best-placed to provide rural broadband solution (Carolan Lennon, The Irish Times)

Eir broadband plan looks set to be rejected by State (Jack Horgan-Jones, The Irish Times)

Eir’s claim puts broadband cat amongst the pigeons (Peter O’Dwyer, The Sunday Business Post)

Listen back to Marian in full here

CEO of Rural Wifi Patrick Cotter; results of a recent survey by Rural Wifi

Rural Wifi, which was launched in 2015, claims to be the first Irish company offering both wireless and satellite broadband across Ireland.

They say using a combination of their router and antenna technologies mean they can get rural customers speeds of 30Mbps.

CEO of Rural Wifi Patrick Cotter – who founded Fleetconnect in 2008, which provides mobile wifi for clients such as Irish Rail and Bus Éireann – writes:

“In the last couple of months, we have been active on the ground in Leitrim and Monaghan -the worst two counties in Ireland for broadband penetration. The take up has been fantastic.

“We are now planning the next steps for further counties over the coming month, testing our service while putting up posters, signing up new customers and installing within short time frames because our teams are already on the ground.

“In Meath, I’m planning to help people be connected with up to 10mb by the end of the year. We need to close the Digital Divide as soon as possible.

“We recently said we’d come to the remote Aran Islands and we did. We installed Rural Wifi into the home of one family with three young kids. They had no internet until then and we got them up to 15 MB per second.”

Rural Wifi offers plans starting from rolling 30-day contracts with packages available from €48 per month for 100 gb data including installation, to unlimited data from €65 per month with a 14-day money back guarantee if the customer isn’t happy.

Fair enough.

Meanwhile…

Eir’s CEO Carolan Lennon at the Oireachtas communications committee on Tuesday

On Tuesday.

Eir’s chief executive Carolan Lennon told the Oireachtas communications committee that Eir could deliver high-speed broadband to 540,000 homes, farms and businesses across Ireland for €1billion.

This is a fifth of the estimated final cost of the project under the preferred bidder Granahan McCourt and a third of the sum the State has agreed to invest in the plan.

Yesterday, Ms Lennon’s appearance and comments were raised by Fianna Fáil’s leader Micheál Martin and he said:

“I think the Minister got too close to the Granahan McCourt consortium; the political and electoral imperative took over and the issue of cost in the Government’s requirements went out the window.”

“…Given that the costs have ballooned even from the estimates of 2017, never mind the original estimate of €500-odd million, the Taoiseach has been too dismissive of those who have raised legitimate questions about this and of yesterday’s Eir submission, which deserves further analysis. Alternatives should be considered.

“The Taoiseach might have felt the need to make a big political announcement before the local elections but I return to the words of the Secretary General of the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform, Mr Robert Watt, who said there was cause to pause and review. I ask the Government to do that now.”

In his response, Taoiseach Leo Varadkar said that, following on from Ms Lennon’s comments, the Department of Communications had written to Eir to seek further clarification, saying:

“We should not forget that Eir took part in the process and made an initial bid for €2.7 billion, which was higher than the initial bid from Granahan McCourt, and then pulled out of the process, citing the fact that the risks were too high and the level of oversight too onerous, and refusing to make any commitment around the equity investment it would make.

“While the Deputy has been critical that the equity investment made by Granahan McCourt is too low, Eir was unwilling to commit to any equity investment whatsoever.

“It is, therefore, a big turnaround that the company is now saying that it can do the project for €1 billion. If that is the case then I am all ears and we must listen to it.

“We need to know whether this offer is real and stacks up, and what kind of delay would be imposed on people in rural Ireland waiting for broadband if we went back to a new procurement process.

“Everyone understands that neither a private nor a State company can just be given a contract; there would have to be a new procurement process. We also need to know that anything done would be within state aid rules and EU procurement law. A letter was issued today by the Department to Eir seeking that information.”

This morning.

On Today’s Sean O’Rourke, Communications Minister Richard Bruton spoke about the matter…

Rural Wifi

Thanks Barbara

This evening.

At 5pm.

Dr Dónal Palcic, a lecturer in economics, and Professor Eoin Reeves, head of the department of economics, both at the Kemmy Business School, University of Limerick, will appear before the Joint Committee on Communications, Climate Action and Environment to talk about the National Broadband Plan.

Both academics have heavily criticised the procurement process of the plan to date.

The committee’s members are TDs Timmy Dooley (FF), James Lawless (FF), Michael Lowry (Independent), Hildegarde Naughton (FG), Eamon Ryan (Green Party), Bríd Smyth (Solidarity-PBP), Brian Stanley (SF) and Senators Terry Leyden (FF), Tim Lombard (FG), Michael McDowell (Independent) and Joe O’Reilly (FG).

Watch live in link above or here.

Related: National Broadband Plan: Ireland pays the bill for a network it won’t own (Eoin Reeves, Donal Palcic, Times Ireland edition, May 8, 2019)

Related: Time for a reboot on Ireland’s broadband plan (RTE Brainstorm, September 24, 2018)

Previously: “How Could They Get It So Cheap?”

Pic: University of Limerick

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

Secretary General of the Department of Public Expenditure Robert Watt

Secretary General at the Department of Robert Watt previously called for the procurement process into the National Broadband Plan to be cancelled.

Despite his warning, Minister for Finance Paschal Donohoe signed off on it.

Meanwhile…

Yesterday…

Hmmm.

Previously: ‘A Harvey Smith To The Committee’

‘The Procurement Process Should Be Cancelled’

‘How Could They Get It So Cheap?’

From top: Social Democrats TD Catherine Murphy; Minister for Communications Richard Bruton; David McCourt with Taoiseach Leo Varadkar at a Science Foundation of Ireland event in new York, March 2018; KPMG logo

Social Democrats TD Catherine Murphy recently tabled a question for the Minister for Communications Richard Bruton.

She asked if his department had engaged KPMG in relation to the National Broadband Plan -which is also being engaged by Granahan McCourt, the preferred bidder for the NBP.

In a written response yesterday, Mr Bruton said:

KPMG Ireland was one of a number of advisors appointed by my department to provide specialist advice and services in relation to the National Broadband Plan (NBP), following a competitive tender process in 2015.

KPMG continues to provide advice and services to my department in relation to the NBP.

This include specialist commercial and financial advice; review of commercial operator plans, the procurement process and supporting documents, and preparation of commercial/financial provisions of the NBP contract.

My department is aware that KPMG Ireland performs the statutory audit of and provides tax advice to, Granahan McCourt Dublin (Ireland) Limited and my department is satisfied that appropriate safeguards are in place.

This includes the audit and tax services being provided by different teams within KPMG Ireland and no contact between the teams with regard to the NBP advisory services.

Last month, in response to a question from Sinn Féin TD Jonathan O’Brien, Mr Bruton said his department had paid KPMG €11,475,285 for consultancy work it carried out in respect of the NBP since June 2015.

Ms Murphy’s question in full was:

To ask the Minister for Communications, Climate Action and Environment if he has engaged a company (details supplied) on aspects of the National Broadband Plan; if so, if he continues to engage the company; if the company is also engaged by the preferred bidder; and if he will make a statement on the matter.

Previously: The KPMG Connection

Fianna Fáil leader Micheál Martin; Taoiseach Leo Varadkar during Leaders’ Questions

This afternoon.

In the Dáil, during Leaders’ Questions.

Fianna Fáil leader Micheál Martin raised what he called “the shifting sands” in relation to the composition of the consortium which will be responsible for delivering the Government’s National Broadband Plan.

In particular he drew attention to the relationship between Granahan McCourt, owned by US billionaire David McCourt; Tetrad Corporation; and McCourt Global, which is owned by David McCourt’s billionaire brother Frank McCourt.

In doing so, he claimed the Government hasn’t been fully transparent about the financial guarantees from different entities which will underpin the project.

Mr Martin’s comments followed Justine McCarthy, in The Sunday Times, reporting at the weekend that McCourt Global were denying that they had involvement in the broadband plan, despite the Minister for Communications Richard Bruton saying they did last week.

Prior to last weekend’s report, Ms McCarthy previously reported that Frank McCourt was also at a dinner meeting that the former Minister for Communications Denis Naughten held with David McCourt in New York in July 2018.

Last Sunday Mr McCarthy reported:

“After repeated attempts to contact him [former Minister for Communications Denis Naughten] last week, Naughten said on Friday that he would reply by email to questions about his interactions with Frank McCourt. He has not done so.”

Mr Varadkar told Mr Martin today that he was “weaving one of his many conspiracy theories”.

Mr Martin started out by saying that last week Fianna Fáil TD Barry Cowen was told there were three investors involved the plan – Granahan McCourt, Tetrad Corporation and McCourt Global.

He said just last evening, Fianna Fáil TD Timmy Dooley was told both Tetrad Corporation and McCourt Global had reiterated their support to final tender.

But he said, last night, in a further written reply, it emerged there will only be two investors – Tetrad Corporation and Granahan McCourt.

He added:

“And we’re also told, Deputy Dooley was, that Tetrad provided a commitment in relation to the equity only required for the project. In other words, they will contractualise a legal underpinning of €175million from the lead bidder – a far cry from the €2.4billion Taoiseach that you gave the impression in the House some time ago that they would be putting in.

There is no legal lein from what we can see on that at all.”

Mr Martin went on to raise the dinner meeting between the then Minister for Communications Denis Naughten and US business man David McCourt in July 2018 in New York, and the minutes of the same.

Mr Martin said:

Taoiseach, in hindsight, I would put it to you that that meeting held on 16th of July, 2018 in New York, between former minister [for communications Denis] Naughten and David MCourt, Frank McCourt was actually quite significant.

“It was a month before the deadline for guarantees of financial underpinning and the consortium had to be submitted. The deadline was August 15th.

“Four serious issues were discussed in relation to the project. We know that there was a need for a permanent Irish-based leadership position, the importance of the 15th of August 2018 deadline and the need for the necessary financing to be in place at the time. This deadline will be met, the minutes say.

“‘The need for any changes in the make-up of the consortium to be avoided or, if necessary, to be kept to a minimum’. ‘The importance of this issue is understood by the consortium which has been advised by Arthur Cox that as long as the consortium’s lead bidder remains unchanged, such changes should not necessitate any delay’.

“Now we now of course know that there was a change in the lead bidder actually from Enet to GMC [Granahan McCourt]. There was a change in the lead bidder and there was a change in the consortium. And there was a change in those who were financially underpinning the project.

And there’s been an impression since Taoiseach that McCourt Global have been in this from the very beginning. McCourt Global are saying they weren’t involved in this, in any shape or form. And Frank McCourt was at that meeting, Taoiseach.

Minister Naughten had to resign, he’s been less than forthcoming. He’s gone silent, he’s not available to comment on this. And I’m putting it to you Taoiseach that it’s extremely important that you would talk to the former minister and get him to give a comprehensive, transparent statement in terms of all of these meetings.

“You might confirm to me, Taoiseach, did Peter Smyth [who reviewed the plan’s process last year and found meetings Naughten had with McCourt didn’t influence the process], during his inquiries speak to Frank McCourt?

“Where will the ultimate liability fall if the plan fails? Or if Granaham McCourt Dublin Limited folded – would it fall on Tetrad Corporation to provide the equity on the National Broadband Plan?”

In response, Taoiseach Leo Varadkar said there was nothing new in what Mr Martin said and that it was well known that the consortium had changed for many months.

He added:

I wasn’t at that dinner [in New York]. No current member of Government was at that dinner. Minister Naughten was, I can’t answer questions on his behalf but I am confident that all of this was covered in the independent report done on this matter carried out by Peter Smyth some months ago and that’s published and in the public domain.”

He added:

In relation to the financial guarantees, National Broadband Ireland will make available €220million in equity and working capital upfront. This will be legally required by the contract which is being finalised. There is no upfront contribution from the taxpayer. The taxpayer only contributes after the fibre is deployed, homes are passed and subsequently connected.

“The total cost of the project is between €5billion and €6billion, including VAT and contingencies with roughly half coming from the State in the form of the Exchequer subsidy and the other half from the investor and commercial revenues.”

In terms of the upfront contribution – €175million comes from Tetrad Corporation and the rest from Granahan McCourt Dublin Ireland Limited. The funding commitments will be contractualised in advance of the contract award…”

Mr Varadkar went on to say:

I understand the department has now corrected the record and clarified any confusion in relation to McCourt Global’s role. It’s role, as I outlined to the Dail last week, is one of two entities relied on for pre-qualification.

“They provided a letter of support. At final tender the equity commitments were provided by Tetrad and I’m sure Minister Bruton will be happy to clarify any further issues or to answer any further questions in this regard.”

Mr Martin said Mr Varadkar’s respond was unsatisfactory and that the information had been “dragged” from him.

He also said that, as for Mr Varadkar’s assertion that the record was corrected, this only emerged last night in PQ replies.

He added:

You can’t go on being as detached as you are. A former minister responsible for this project and this tender met with the preferred bidder on a number or occasions.

“And we were led to believe they were all innocent dinners – ‘ah sure, we’re just having a personal lunch’. They were not, come off it, Taoiseach.

“You can’t stand up here as Taoiseach of the country and say ‘no one in the current Government is involved’. For God’s sake, he was a former minister with you. You still depend on him for support.

Frank McCourt, of Global McCourt [sic], was at that dinner and they weren’t there talking about the weather.”

“…You pretended you saw no evil until all the other dinners emerged and then Denis Naughten fell on his sword. Denis Naughten, the former minister, has an obligation to talk to the House and tell us everything that took place in relation to this.”

“Gobal McCourt [sic] have now disappeared. Global McCourt [sic] have now disappeared minister, and you’re department was telling The Sunday Times two weeks ago that, your department was telling The Sunday Times two weeks ago that Global McCourt [sic] were the financial underpinners of this project in two series of articles.

“You’re confusing the [inaudible] deliberately in my view, at this stage. What are you hiding in relation to the relationships between GMC and Tetrad and Global..”

Mr Varadkar went on to say:

The fact that Deputy Naughten attended those dinners is old news. It’s been in the public domain for many months, we knew that last year. Deputy Naughten resigned from Government over six months ago and we used the interim period to make sure that this bid was sound and that it was the right one to go forward with. And an independent report was done by Peter Smyth, as the independent auditor, dealing with all these matters.”

“Deputy, deputy, deputy, calm down, deputy you need to calm down…

“Ceann Comhairle, the deputy really needs to calm down here. The Government has been very transparent on this matter.

What’s happening here is, once again, once again, Deputy Martin is weaving one of his many conspiracy theories.”

Mr Martin replied that when the controversy arose over Mr Naughten’s dinner meetings, Mr Varadkar also accused Mr Martin of creating a conspiracy theory.

“Twenty-four hours later, he resigned,” he added.

US giant McCourt Global denies backing David McCourt’s national broadband bid (Justine McCarthy, The Sunday Times, May 19, 2019)

She told the Taoiseach that broadband provision in rural Ireland remained a “big problem” and she asked him how long people are going to have to wait. “It’s not fair that people in Dublin get access to everything. Everyone should have those opportunities,” she said.

Seems legit.

*stares into abyss*