Poor broadband is hurting rural businesses across Ireland

31 May 2018

Image: supparsorn/Shutterstock

Poor connectivity is putting rural businesses in real danger, warn business owners.

An overwhelming 96pc of SMEs responding to a survey say that rural businesses are at a competitive disadvantage due to inadequate, poor-quality broadband.

The study of challenges facing SMEs in Ireland by Big Red Cloud found that bad broadband can make or break a business in 2018.

‘A bad quarter could make or break these businesses, so many don’t have time to wait’

The survey of more than 250 SME business owner-managers found that 56pc believe when it comes to IT, broadband is the single biggest tech challenge they face.

Staff come second in IT-related challenges to SMEs (16pc) while more than one in 10 of SME owner-managers believe cybercrime is their biggest problem.

So, if they overwhelmingly believe broadband is a bigger issue than sourcing people in a skills crisis while cybercrime threats mount daily, that is saying something.

The digital realities of business today

Not only that, but 60pc of firms recognise they need to do more about their online presence as the worlds of e-commerce and bricks-and-mortar businesses continue to merge and consumers equipped with smartphones become savvier shoppers than ever before.

“Being in the fintech space, we are acutely aware of the fact that while developments in IT across the board can help businesses connect with their customers and provide better products and services to them, leveraging this IT in an effective and cost-efficient manner brings with it a myriad of challenges,” said Marc O’Dwyer, CEO of Big Red Cloud, a cloud-based accountancy software player.

“But which ones are most businesses throughout the country grappling with? This is what we sought to identify when we undertook this survey.

“I’m not surprised that broadband-related issues topped the poll. As a country, we lag far behind in terms of the quality of broadband we can offer to all areas of this island.

“A staggering 96pc of the business we surveyed are in agreement that businesses in rural Ireland are [at] a huge competitive disadvantage due to poor-quality broadband. What’s more, our survey looked at businesses in all areas of the country – not just rural – and, of these, 56pc think that broadband is the single biggest challenge facing Irish SMEs.”

Crucially, the delays to the National Broadband Plan – which is aiming to deliver at least 30Mbps connectivity to 542,000 premises in rural Ireland, encompassing 1.8m citizens, of which 688,000 are members of the Irish labour force – are having a serious impact.

“The National Broadband Plan’s goal is to address this problem but its slow pace of progress is, understandably, the source of some frustration for businesses in many areas. Most recent stats show that as of December 2017, 69pc of the 2.3m premises around the country have access to high-speed broadband.

“But what about the other 31pc who are trying to carry out day-to-day business activities? The plan commits to 77pc having the same access by the end of the year, climbing to 90pc in 2020. But, as any small business owner will tell you, time is of the essence; a bad quarter could make or break these businesses, so many don’t have time to wait.”

O’Dwyer concluded by pointing to a global study of more than 63m broadband speed tests, which revealed that Ireland is 36th worldwide, with an average speed of 13.92Mbps.

“At the time, small business representative bodies were critical of Ireland’s ranking, and voiced concerns over the lack of infrastructure investment in the country and its effect on the business landscape. Our survey supports and furthers these sentiments.”

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