The ESB (Electronic Communications Networks) Act 2014 (the Act) empowers the ESB – either on its own or acting with another company -  to, inter alia, engage in all or any of the following businesses: (a) development of electronic communications networks (ECN) and electronic communications services (ECS) infrastructure; (b) leasing, licensing, selling, providing, making use of etc any service in connection with ECN and ECS infrastructure; and (c) ECN or ECS (or both) on a wholesale or retail basis. In so doing, the ESB may provide any company with access to the ESB's electricity infrastructure to enable that company to develop ECN and ECS and/or associated services.

The legislation follows on from the ESB's tender for a JV partner for the roll-out of a new €400 million fibre broadband network as part of the ESB's fibre-to-the-home project.  Recent press reports indicate that the ESB has entered exclusive negotiations with Vodafone Ireland as its commercial JV partner. 

Speaking at the end of April about the future roll-out of fibre broadband in Ireland, the Minister for Communications, Pat Rabitte, confirmed that a new joint venture was being set up between the ESB and Vodafone.  According to press reports, Mr Rabitte confirmed that the JV would "see the ESB's existing infrastructure of poles and pylons used to carry high-speed broadband into 450,000 homes in areas where it is now unavailable", and that "details of the new partnership between Vodafone and the ESB would be ironed out "in the next few weeks", after which a new company would be established.

In terms of the Government's wider plans for the roll-out of high speed broadband to rural Ireland, the Minister confirmed his department has Cabinet sign-off on a €512m plan.  The plan is intended to ensure 1,100 villages which are located in areas where commercial roll-out (ie by private sector operators) is not considered viable will be connected to future-proofed fibre networks.

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