News & Media

Public money demands public ownership of Broadband

22 October 2019

Statement by Sean Sherlock TD
Spokesperson on Justice, Children and Youth Affairs
Labour seeks publicly owned broadband network - We are not so much selling the family silver as paying someone to take it off our hands says Sherlock.

Labour Communications spokesperson Seán Sherlock TD has today launched the Labour Party Private Members motion, to be debated on Wednesday, that calls for the broadband network to be publicly owned if public money is spent on it.

The motion is to give effect to the recommendation of the Joint Oireachtas Committee, which Government has ignored to date.

Deputy Sherlock said:

“Today the Labour Party has launched our motion calling for a publicly owned broadband network to give effect to the recommendation of the Joint Oireachtas Committee report on an investigation to examine the National Broadband Plan process thus far and how best to proceed and the best means to roll out rural broadband.

“The question of rural broadband is not about whether or not we should deliver it. Everyone agrees that we should have comprehensive broadband for everyone in this country. Everyone wants the benefits that it will bring, and Labour wants equality of access to high speed broadband across the country.

“However, the State, over a number of years, will invest €2.9 billion of public money into a new national broadband network. It is simply unbelievable that for this level of investment that the State will not own such an important network that the people have paid for.

"This will be nearly €3billion given to a private monopoly, which will own the network forever and the proposed contract will last 25 years, but what then? The private monopoly will then be in a strategic position to charge significantly more to users. We are not so much as selling the family silver as paying someone to take it off our hands. Generations to come will wonder at the ineptitude of handing over such a strategic asset to the private sector.

“In its report the Joint Committee concluded that, notwithstanding timeline complications, the broadband network infrastructure should be under the ownership of the State as it is strategically important: ‘There is no justification for the resulting network to be owned by the minority investor instead of the majority investor, which is the State.’

“This motion if passed will send a very important signal to the Government. If it is successful, the Government should honour the vote of the Dáil on Thursday and not simply ignore iot as it has done with other Dáil votes. We won’t stand idly by while they hand over billions to a private consortium. Before signing the contract in the weeks ahead, the Government need to ensure under its terms, that the network will revert to public ownership.

“The ongoing delay in the signing of the contract until the end of the year now provides the Government an opportunity to ensure this happens. A majority of Oireachtas members supports public ownership.

“I will be seeking the support of all Opposition parties for this Bill.”

ENDS

The Full Text of the motion is:

“That Dáil Éireann:
— notes the Report of the Oireachtas Joint Committee on Communications, Climate Action and Environment entitled ‘Report on an investigation to examine the National Broadband Plan process thus far and how best to proceed and the best means to roll out rural broadband’, which was laid before both Houses of the Oireachtas on the 27th August, 2019;
— endorses the view of the Oireachtas Joint Committee that: high speed broadband is a vital piece of infrastructure for rural Ireland and should be provided as quickly as possible, to the same standard as is available commercially in other parts of the country, at the same cost to consumers as elsewhere and at best value to the taxpayer; and
— the broadband network infrastructure should be under the ownership of the State, as it is strategically important; and
— resolves that public moneys should not be expended on any proposed broadband telecommunications network unless such a network is, or is to be, owned by a Minister of the Government or a public body on behalf of the people.”

— Sean Sherlock, Brendan Howlin, Joan Burton, Alan Kelly, Jan O'Sullivan, Willie Penrose, Brendan Ryan.