A survey last week sponsored by the Commission for Communications Regulation (ComReg) revealed that only 37pc of Irish households have access to the internet by any device. Broadband lobby group IrelandOffline has said this figure hasn’t changed in two years and expressed concerns that an unchanging digital divide isn’t decreasing “but rapidly turning into a chasm”.
ComReg’s annual Trends Survey, conducted by Amarach Consulting, revealed a certain amount of maturity in attitudes amongst Irish households in response to telecoms competition. It showed that 58pc of fixed line and 80pc of mobile users rate value for money and lower prices as important when choosing or switching operators.
However, so far only 31pc of fixed-line consumers and 35pc of mobile consumers shopped around to compare prices between operators.
The survey showed the main uses of the internet in Ireland were email at 62pc, information research at 56pc and general browsing at 50pc. While 78pc of home internet subscribers agreed that using the internet has changed the way they seek and find information, the reality that only 37pc of households access the internet is being perceived as a cause for alarm.
This statistic rests awkwardly beside another damming figure — PC penetration in Ireland stands at only 42.3pc, far behind Sweden (54pc) and the US (82pc).
In a statement this morning lobby group Ireland Offline said ComReg’s latest figures should start ringing alarm bells at the Department of Communications, Marine and Natural Resources. IrelandOffline chairman Damien Mulley commented: “That we have a digital divide is a given, but with only 37pc of households going online, a figure unchanged in two years, this divide isn’t decreasing but rapidly turning into a chasm.”
Turning to the ComReg fact that more than seven out of 10 people don’t use broadband to access the internet, Mulley added: “Internet users in this country want and need broadband but as we’ve been saying for the past number of years, they simply cannot get it. It just isn’t there for those that want it and massaging availability figures doesn’t help the end user.
Mulley’s colleague at Ireland Offline, Martin Harran said the new ComReg figures also show a worrying trend that ISDN usage has almost doubled since 2003. Harran stated: “ISDN is a totally outdated technology for internet access, a technology created in the Seventies. Even using two lines and paying double call rate, it is less than one eighth of the speed of common starting packages for broadband and prohibitively expensive. The fact that increasingly more people are having to turn to it in desperation shows amply both the desire for higher speed and yet how unavailable it is for so many people.”
Mulley said intervention by Communications Minister Noel Dempsey TD to grant additional powers to ComReg is now an imperative. He said: “It’s not as if there is anything magical about what has to be done to sort out this mess — the path has already been clearly shown by so many other countries in the EU. The minister needs to give the regulator some teeth and encourage it to use them and he needs to sign up to one the many reports that recommend a national broadband plan. We need to take the model of the National Roads Authority and apply it to broadband.”
By John Kennedy