Northern Ireland’s long awaited £165m Project Stratum, which originally hoped to extend “superfast broadband” (30Mbps+) to cover 97,000 extra premises but is now targeting “approximately” 78,500 premises, has lost one of its three potential bidders in Granahan McCourt. Only BT and Fibrus remain.
At present data from Thinkbroadband indicates that around 89% of premises in Northern Ireland can access a “superfast” service, which is the lowest level of such coverage in the United Kingdom. On the flip side 44% can access a “full fibre” (FTTP) network, which is up from 35.42% at the end of last year and represents the highest level of such coverage in the UK. Ultrafast (100Mbps+) coverage is also 55%, thanks mostly to both Virgin Media and Openreach (BT).
Admittedly Granahan McCourt may be an unfamiliar name in the United Kingdom, but they’re currently the Irish Government’s preferred bidder for Ireland’s €3bn National Broadband Plan (NBP) and a deal for Project Stratum would have enabled them to extend over the border into the north.
Unfortunately a report in the Irish Times claims that the company has now dropped out of the running after failing to submit an initial tender offer. Reportedly Granahan McCourt was unhappy because the time-line for bids had not been delayed to reflect the COVID-19 crisis (i.e. the virus hindered their preparation), which they allegedly felt may have also conferred an unfair advantage to BT.
The specifics of this gripe are unclear since they could have claimed key worker status for any on-the-ground surveys and remote working should have been able to tackle the rest. However the company has declined to comment and so we may never understand the difficulties they faced, if any. In fairness it was always going to be hard for an operator with no existing FTTP deployments in N.I to stand a chance of winning (local authorities tend to be risk averse for good reason).
Meanwhile the exact number and location of premises that will see improvement will not be known until the procurement is complete and a contract has been awarded, expected in September 2020. Now if I could just read “Project Stratum” without the movie star name “Jason Statham” popping up into my head.. every damn time (am I the only one?).