The first indication of a looming urban-rural digital divide in Ireland has arrived in the form of job opportunities from Apple and Amazon that unfortunately disqualify people who live in areas where broadband of less than 5Mbps is available.
As I’ve pointed out on many occasions, there is an intrinsic link between broadband quality and job creation.
But new jobs being rolled out in Ireland by companies like Apple and Amazon for customer support agents to work from home preclude people who have anything less than 5Mbps download speeds and 1Mbps upload speeds.
That means many people who live in rural locations won’t be able to apply for certain jobs.
For example Apple, which is recruiting 500 new people in Cork, is also looking for at-home chat representatives. These are tech-savvy individuals who are passionate about Apple’s products and who can talk to customers over chat.
No broadband = no job
These ‘home-shoring’ positions are about to become very common and are ideal for individuals who are flexible, good at languages and can work with minimum supervision.
In the UK and other economies, many home-shorers tend to be part-time students, stay-at-home parents and semi-retired professionals who can work flexibly and have the maturity to just get on with it.
However, as one positioned advertised on Jobs.ie for an ‘At-Home Chat Representative’ with Spanish skills shows, not only must the prospective employee have a flexible schedule, PC and Mac experience, a private workspace in their house, but they must also be able to demonstrate they have high-speed internet services meeting minimum bandwidth requirements of 5Mbps downstream and 1Mbps up stream.
“This is a move that has been predicted for the best part of 15 years but is finally happening," said Imogen Bertin, a part-time lecturer in social media skills and digital marketing at University College Cork explains.
“Apple are looking for 5Mbps minimum broadband connection, Amazon 4Mbps. That basically excludes rural dwellers because of the latency issues with satellite.
“This issue is going to cause a big urban/rural divide over the next few years," Bertin warned.
Unfortunately, for the best part of the last decade successive Irish governments have failed to embrace broadband as a serious policy issue.
In the coming month, Communications Minister Pat Rabbitte, TD, and the Next Generation Broadband Taskforce will unveil a long-overdue strategy to right the issue. But even so, according to industry, more than 50pc of Ireland’s population will have access to at least 70Mbps by 2015. That leaves at least half the population who won’t have what will be international standards of broadband by that date.