Oireachtas Joint and Select Committees

Wednesday, 5 June 2019

Joint Oireachtas Committee on Communications, Climate Action and Environment

National Broadband Plan: Discussion

Photo of Brian StanleyBrian Stanley (Laois, Sinn Fein) | Oireachtas source

I have only three questions. On 5 May 2019, when the Minister appeared before the committee, he stated:

The price it can charge to operators is fixed. In the case of a residential home it is set at €30 per month per subscriber. This is an entirely regulated business.

Will ComReg confirm the role it played in the decision to charge €30 per month? What is that based on?

As I recall it, when ComReg issued its regulation on a wholesale access price for broadband last November, it set the price at €19.54 per house. Why is the contract now stating it will be €30? What control will ComReg have over the figure of €30 in the future? Is it index-linked? Although I know Mr. Blaney will say it has certain powers, the key flaw in all of this is that ComReg is dealing with a monopoly. If the contract for the NBP plan goes in the direction in which the Government is driving it, the monopoly will have full control of the NBP network. As Mr. Blaney said in his opening remarks, "For the future, it is possible that ComReg could play a role in advising the Minister or his or her representative on certain post-contract governance matters to the extent within ComReg's expertise." He went on to mention some of the issues involved.

The board of National Broadband Ireland will have nine members. ComReg represents the public interest which we are supposed to be representing. That is why we are having this useful conversation. Eight people on the board will represent the American investor which will, as we have learned, invest between €30 million and €40 million in the early days of the process. The taxpayer who will put in up to €3 billion in the early years of the process will be represented by one person. ComReg's interests, our interests and those of the people will be represented by one person. The loyalty of the others on the board of the corporate entity, National Broadband Ireland, will be to the company. When I asked for clarification on this matter in recent weeks, I was told that they would be appointed by the investor. One person and one person only will be appointed by the Minister to represent the taxpayer. The point I am making relates to how these matters will be overseen. ComReg will regulate it. If the single soul who will be on the board has the will to stand up and thump or kick the table at a meeting, he or she will be completely outvoted. He or she will have little or no say, no authority and no power to try to put the brakes on if it goes off in a certain direction.

I have asked my three questions.


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