Just a fraction of the €6bn-plus Budget surplus would go a long way towards making Ireland a broadband nation and an international contender in the global knowledge economy instead of the piecemeal initiatives currently on the table, a lobby group said yesterday.
IrelandOffline spokesman Damien Mulley said that if Ireland is serious about attracting high-quality investments then it needs to get its infrastructure, particularly its communications infrastructure, in order.
Yesterday's end-of-year statement for 2006 by IDA Ireland, while acknowledging significant gains on the jobs front, indicated that competition for foreign direct investment (FDI) internationally is heating up and that many countries are now breathing down Ireland's neck.
IDA Ireland chief executive Sean Dorgan said that the successes of any one year are always the product of sustained effort over an extended period by many players from government to industry.
He warned that without essential investment in infrastructure in the regions quickly "Dublin may falter and regions fail".
However, it is on the broadband infrastructure element – essential to the knowledge economy and a vital part of the IDA's sales pitch ¬– that Ireland is trailing its nearest competitors, ranking 24th out of 32 countries for broadband according to the OECD.
Only 85pc of the country is covered by broadband and a recent Commission for Communications Regulation report showed that over 50pc of people who apply for broadband don't get it.
The remaining 15pc has been the subject of much conjecture and earlier last year Eircom said that it would take €60m to have 100pc broadband coverage in Ireland.
However, according to the recent Book of Estimates, out of €561m provided to the Department of Communications, Marine and Natural Resources, a mere €10m was earmarked to reach 100pc coverage in Ireland.
"If Ireland is serious about attracting high-quality jobs and investment then the Government needs to make sure the basics such as education and infrastructure are available," Mulley told siliconrepublic.com.
"Broadband is now as essential as electricity for a workforce yet Government initiatives are failing to ensure broadband is available to all the Irish population and not just the major cities.
"A tiny fraction of the 2006 Budget surplus could make Ireland a broadband nation but instead there have been minor piecemeal initiatives to deliver broadband to some areas," Mulley said.
"The knowledge economy jobs that Ireland is trying to encourage are already being won away by developing countries such as India with an extremely well-educated workforce and who are now beginning to avail of affordable broadband.
"Software developers in Ireland are literally competing with 15-year old Indian kids for work and a large amount of internet entrepreneurs in India are of school-leaving age," Mulley claimed.
By John Kennedy