The Irish Government, via the Department for Communications, Climate Action and Environment, has named Granahan McCourt the preferred bidder for the rural wholesale broadband access network it will help fund as part of the country’s National Broadband Plan. A formal contract with a consortium led by Granahan McCourt Capital, the last among three finalist bidders to remain in the running for the project, awaits State Aid Approval by the European Commission. Upon such approval, the Granahan McCourt consortium will set up a new company, National Broadband Ireland (NBI), to deploy, maintain, and operate the wholesale network.
The Irish Government says its end of the network build investment is capped at 3 billion euros over the next 25 years. The figure includes 545 million euros for “conditional and contingent subsidy” as well as 354 million in VAT. How much Granahan McCourt will invest is currently uncertain. An Irish minister was quoted as suggesting 200 million euros, a figure that raised objections from Government opposition and project critics, according to the Irish Examiner. However, the paper subsequently quoted Minister of Communications, Climate Action and Environment Richard Bruton as saying the company would have to kick in 2.4 billion euros.
According to The Irish Times, the Granahan McCourt consortium was the last bidder standing after the plan tender drew five bidders, which were whittled to three. Two of those three dropped out, leaving Granahan McCourt, a private investment firm, and its partners the sole option. NBI has already named enet (an Irish open access network operator of which Granahan McCourt's founder and CEO, David C. McCourt, was once chairman), Nokia, Actavo, The Kelly Group, and KN Group as rollout partners.
Related article: SIRO, enet partner for FTTB
The rural infrastructure plan is part of a larger public/private initiative to bring high-speed broadband across the country. Private companies are expected to deliver such services to nearly 75% of Ireland’s citizens, concentrated in the countries urban and suburban areas. NBI will build the infrastructure required to reach another 23.8% of the population – approximately 1.1 million people and 540,000 premises over the course of 5 years. The contract will run 25 years, which will include operation and maintenance of the network after the initial rollout. It also contains an agreement for an additional 10 years of services at no cost to the Government.
NBI will be tasked with passing 133,000 homes in the first two years and 70,000 to 100,000 per year thereafter. The network deployment should be completed in seven years, with work expected to begin in the fourth quarter of this year. The vast majority of the network will be based on fiber; while the initial call for bids was media agnostic, all three bidders based their proposals on fiber-optic broadband infrastructure. In the wake of subsequent skepticism that fiber would remain optimal as 5G wireless technology matured, the Government engaged market research and analysis firm Analysys Mason to review the technology options. Analysys Mason’s subsequent report confirmed that fiber would prove the best approach. However, wireless options for specific circumstances will remain on the table; NBI is expected to use wireless in 2% to 5% of connections.
The fiber to the premises (FTTP) infrastructure is expected to support services of 150 Mbps for most residents and 1 Gbps for power users and small and medium businesses initially. Those figures should increase, with residents able to receive 300 Mbps by the sixth year and 500 Mbps in 10 years. Businesses should be able to receive 2 Gbps by the 11th year, with further increases after that.
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