Public should own National Broadband Company

08 May 2019

Speaking in relation to the publication by Government of background papers on the National Broadband Plan, the leader of the Labour Party and former Minister for Public Expenditure, Brendan Howlin TD called for the public to own the proposed national broadband company rather than a private monopoly.

Brendan said: “Labour wants to see high speed rural broadband delivered as soon as possible, and all parties in Dáil Éireann agree on this point. Labour is committed to covering the cost involved, as long as the network remains in public ownership.

“But Labour also wants to protect people living in rural Ireland from being exploited down the line. By giving so much control over the rural broadband network to a private monopoly, there is a risk that the cost of broadband could become much more expensive once the 25-year contract is over.

“As proposed by Fine Gael, the private investors in National Broadband Ireland can sell their shares, which could mean vulture funds getting hold of the company. The proposed contract will only allow the Minister to block this from happening in the first nine years. Why is this allowed at all? We know the sole bidder in the National Broadband Plan is primarily a financial investment firm, not a telecoms company. It seems clear to me that they want the option of selling Ireland’s rural broadband network at some point in the future.

“Fine Gael has failed to explain what added value that a financial company brings to this whole consortium, at a time where the State can easily borrow the money to cover the entire project cost. Why shouldn’t a public company employ the same sub-contractors as the private company? Why does the Government want to give a level of profit to the investors that the Secretary General of the Department of Public Expenditure has described as ‘very high’ for the level of risk they are taking with this investment.

“When the public sector delivered rural electrification, it was through a public enterprise that has served this country well and faithfully for generations, as a quality employer and as a profitable company that paid €1.5 billion in dividends to the State following the 2008 crash.

“That is why, modelled on rural electrification, we should have an ESB-style National Broadband Company to retain control over prices into perpetuity and to eliminate the possibility of ruthless investors taking over rural broadband.

“Twenty-five years might seem like a long time, but learning the lesson from 2008, which is now 11 years ago, it should be clear that there are too many risks involved in letting a private monopoly run our broadband network. The public was rightly determined, as was Labour, that Irish Water should never be privatised. But why does Fine Gael think that the public would accept a utility as important as broadband to be privatised from the outset?”

ENDS

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