National Broadband Ireland (NBI), the company rolling out the new high speed fibre broadband network under the Government’s National Broadband Plan (NBP), is said to be planning to search for new financial backers, according to the Irish Independent. Local press reports suggest that the company is looking for new minority investors with a long-term outlook, possibly to replace existing minority investors, with one unnamed senior executive at the company cited as saying: ‘It would be someone like Berkshire Hathaway.’ It was, however, noted that the search is unlikely to actually happen until the second half of next year. Currently NBI is controlled by Granahan McCourt chairman David McCourt and the family of the late US business investor Walter Scott. Minority shareholders are said to include US equity firms Oak Hill Advisors and Twin Point Capital.
Notably, under the Government’s NBP contract, a change in investors would not alter the contractual obligations of the consortium major shareholders. Meanwhile, senior sources at NBI were said to have suggested that the move to seek new financial backers would not impact the rollout of the fibre broadband network that ultimately seeks to cover 544,000 premises in rural areas.
NBI has, however, fallen behind schedule with its rollout plans – having initially aimed to have reached 115,000 premises by the end of this year, it subsequently reduced its target to 60,000, blaming the disruption from the COVID-19 pandemic and contractor-related difficulties. Meanwhile, NBI chairman David McCourt was said to have written to the Irish Independent this week to suggest that underinvestment from local fixed line incumbent eir was a contributory factor in its rollout difficulties. The executive was said to have appealed to eir to ‘upgrade a network that has long been overlooked and underinvested in’, while adding that ‘the issues with eir’s infrastructure stem directly from the fact that the company’s ownership has changed hands more times than American kids trade baseball cards’.