The Department of Communications, Energy and Natural Resources takes a step closer to roll-out of its new National Broadband Plan by issuing a tender for legal advisory services.  The deadline for responses has been extended to 19 September 2014.

The Irish Government's National Broadband Plan ("NBP") was published in August 2012. The purpose of the NBP was to outline the Government's commitment to deliver high speed broadband availability across the country in excess of the 30Mbps target in the European Commission's Digital Agenda 2020.   Originally the NBP set down specific target speeds. In particular, the original NBP envisaged that broadband download speeds of 70Mbps (with a minimum of 40Mbps generally available, and 30 Mbps available in harder to reach rural areas) would be available to 50% of the population by 2015; with the expectation that most of these premises would in fact enjoy speeds of up to 100Mbps.

In April of this year however, the then Minister for Communications, Energy and Natural Resources, Pat Rabbitte, announced an update to the Government's strategy for the NBP. Apparently the Government considered that the NBP needed to be updated to take account of significant market developments since publication of the NBP in 2012 – not least the recent commercial roll-out of 4G services by Irish telecoms operators which offer much faster download speeds in urban locations.

The announcement set out details of the State's proposed intervention under the NBP and signalled a move away from the previous approach of setting minimum / target download speeds towards a longer term strategy on infrastructure, involving fibre build-out to rural areas.  The FAQ section of the Department's website contains a helpful summary of the current proposed strategy and next steps. 

The update notes that a comprehensive mapping exercise is already underway to identify possible locations for fibre based connections.  This mapping exercise will likely also inform the State's assessment as to which locations might require State funding / assistance.  According to the Department tender for legal advisory services, formal State aid clearance will likely be required from the European Commission.  The tender envisages submission of the necessary State aid application to the European Commission in the second half of 2015, with finalisation of the process and roll-out of the new NBP in 2016.

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