Broadband in Ireland is bad enough for people to consider moving house

2 Nov 2017

An abandoned house in Connemara. Image: Michael Steden/Shutterstock

If you have good broadband in Ireland, you are grand. If you have bad broadband, you’ll probably want to up sticks and move to a bigger town or village.

The quality of broadband in Ireland is an enduring debate and, in most cases, it is like the curate’s egg, in that it is only good in parts.

However, if you are in an area of bad coverage, and you are still waiting for the Government’s National Broadband Plan (NBP) to arrive and do its magic, chances are you may have moved house in the meantime.

‘Many of the people affected by poor access live in rural Ireland. We need to help our rural communities thrive, not drive them into towns and cities because of internet problems’

According to a new survey of 1,001 online adults by Censuswide on behalf of Pure Telecom, three-quarters of adults in Ireland are happy with the speeds they are getting.

About 88pc said their home broadband speeds have remained the same or improved in the last 12 months. The average person now spends six hours and 20 minutes a day on their home broadband connection, totalling 44 hours and 23 minutes per week. 16-21-year-olds typically spend seven hours and 40 minutes online per day.

A tale of two Irelands

But it is a case of two Irelands that Pure Telecom is portraying: where urban areas are served with adequate broadband while rural areas struggle to get connected.

The survey showed that half of those who have poor broadband access would consider relocating. It echoes a similar study by Vodafone a year ago that indicated businesses in rural areas are being forced to relocate due to the lack of adequate broadband access.

“The internet plays a massive role in people’s lives, proven by the fact that 50pc of people with unsatisfactory access would move somewhere else if they didn’t have acceptable broadband access,” said Paul Connell, director, Pure Telecom.

“Many of the people affected by poor access live in rural Ireland. We need to help our rural communities thrive, not drive them into towns and cities because of internet problems.”

Pure Telecom recently signed a €35m wholesale deal with Open Eir as part of its strategy to grow from 42,500 broadband connections to 100,000.

“We hope that the National Broadband Plan will be announced and rolled out quickly so that people can access quality internet services no matter where they live.”

People of rural Ireland await an intervention

And that’s the big question: where is the NBP actually at?

At the end of September, ESB and Vodafone joint venture Siro pulled out of the NBP tender, leaving only Eir and Enet in the race. Siro said that it will instead focus its efforts on delivering high-speed broadband to 500,000 homes and businesses across 51 towns in Ireland.

Incumbent national telecoms operator Eir is on track to deliver fibre broadband to 1.9m homes and businesses by 2018. Earlier this year, Eir signed an agreement with the Irish Government to invest an additional €200m to upgrade 300,000 premises in 890 communities to fibre broadband.

Meanwhile, Enet and SSE are collaborating on rolling out fibre to 115,00 homes and businesses in towns in Ireland’s mid- and north-west.

But that still leaves more than 542,000 homes and premises in the NBP area, outside of these towns and villages addressed by Enet and Siro and the territory secured by Eir, who are still waiting for intervention.

At the time of Siro’s decision to leave the NBP competition process, Communications Minister Denis Naughten, TD, said that the NBP would continue with its mission to deliver fibre broadband to the 542,000 premises in the intervention area.

“Every village in Ireland will have a pure fibre connection,” he said at the time.

“It is an undisputed fact that the National Broadband Plan has already leveraged investment in infrastructure in rural Ireland.”

Fergal Mulligan, Department of Communications official, said that the Government is now two-thirds of the way through its procurement process.

“In the New Year, the final tender will be awarded.”

The pressure is on and the clock is ticking. In a data-centric future, do we really want an Ireland where the rural economy has all but disappeared towards bigger towns and villages?

John Kennedy is a journalist who served as editor of Silicon Republic for 17 years