Ireland’s broadband and internet doldrums are not in keeping with the general outlook for the Irish economy, as according to an internet ‘weather map’ of Europe, Ireland is one of the coldest zones where less than 60pc of adults have used the internet in the past three months.
The other ‘cold’ zones for internet usage in Europe are the Mediterranean and eastern Europe, while the ‘hottest’ areas with 80pc to 100pc of adults online are the Netherlands, Denmark and Sweden.
The weather map was produced by internet consultancy Amas for the Irish Internet Association’s quarterly State of the Net bulletin.
“We reckon it’s a combination of cultural factors and the fact that as a nation we came relatively late to internet usage and we’re still playing catch-up,” explained Fiachra O’Marcaigh, director of Amas.
“The problem is that internet access is often seen as an optional extra rather than a key part of everyday life and business.
“If given a choice, it seems Irish people would rather sign up for satellite TV than broadband.”
On the economic travesty that is the shortage of broadband availability in Ireland, O’Marcaigh argued the regions being ignored by telecom operators are the very ones for whom broadband offers the best opportunities.
“The subject of broadband is a bit like Dublin traffic, we’re all reluctant to go on talking about it but it’s a clear and ongoing threat to the viability of existing businesses and the chances of new information-based businesses being formed.
“There are stark examples of inability to access broadband even within Dublin itself. The worst case I heard of in Dublin is a man in Howth who lives too far from the nearest exchange to get DSL but lives on the wrong side of the hill for fixed wireless access. He has to pay for expensive satellite broadband with its time lag problems and which is also useless for gaming or voice over internet (VoIP) services.”
O’Marcaigh continued: “Counties like Donegal, Mayo and Galway are natural places for information-based industries to be established. Look at the success of the audio and visual industries in Galway on the back of TG4. These areas must have the connectivity.”
Some telecoms companies have used the tired and worn excuse that it’s a demand issue rather than a supply issue and the Irish Government last year ran a broadband awareness campaign to drum up demand.
O’Marcaigh refuses to accept this. “There is a demand side to this. However, if supply was universal – if every citizen who requires it could get affordable, high-speed broadband in any area they wish, then the policymakers can get to work on the demand and public education issues.”
There are rumbles from the EU that the Irish Government effectively blew the boom and O’Marcaigh believes broadband is one more issue on the catalogue of neglect. “Investment has been overdue in health and roads. To me, the ICT issue is as important to the Irish nation as fixing roads.
“We as a nation are in danger of blowing a major opportunity. We need urgent action, we may be on the brink of solving the issue but it’s a pity for the country and its economy that it has taken so long,” O’Marcaigh added.
To access the State of the Net report, go to www.amas.ie
By John Kennedy