Ireland is nowhere near ‘digital heaven’ targets set out by European Commission

5 Dec 2012

While EU Commissioner Neelie Kroes has set down ambitious Digital Agenda targets of all citizens getting superfast broadband by 2020, Ireland is only 36pc of the way towards achieving that aim, a new study reveals.

Currently, 36pc of Irish homes can subscribe to superfast broadband services of at least 30Mbps, according to Point Topic.

While Ireland can claim to serve 97pc of its population with broadband service of some description, including 94pc of those in rural areas, it faces a bigger challenge in achieving the EU’s superfast target.

Future Human

Currently, superfast broadband penetration in rural areas of Ireland stands at a big fat zero.

The report, which identifies the challenge for Ireland, has been produced for DG Connect, the department of the European Commission which is responsible for its Digital Agenda strategy.

The purpose of the Digital Agenda is to harness the internet and other digital technologies to drive sustainable economic growth.  

Kroes, the Commission vice-president responsible, wants to see €7bn earmarked for EU investments in broadband to help reach Digital Agenda targets, which in turn is meant to draw in private funds of many times that amount.  

“This study gives us the best view so far of where action is needed on broadband coverage,” Kroes said.

“It will help to guide decisions on where EU and private money can be invested to provide the best long-term return for taxpayers and investors, such as pension funds.”

More like digital hell

Called Broadband Coverage in Europe in 2011, the new study shows that 97pc of the homes in Ireland can now get basic broadband, meaning services offering at least 144kbps (kilobits per second), if they want to subscribe.  

Almost 36pc can already get superfast broadband, also known as NGA, for next-generation access.  

Looking at the 29 study countries as a whole (all 27 members of the EU, plus Norway and Iceland), 96pc can already get basic broadband and more than 50pc – halfway to the ‘digital heaven’ target for 2020 – can get superfast.

Basic broadband is fairly widespread now, only three EU countries have less than 90pc coverage.

But there are huge variations in superfast availability both internationally and within countries.

As far as Ireland is concerned, the map shows that the contrast is marked.  

·       Dublin already has 89pc superfast coverage but the rest of the country is well behind, with no region having more than 25pc.  

·       The study also shows how competing technologies are sharing out the superfast broadband market, as illustrated on the chart.  

·       At present, Ireland relies almost entirely on its extensive cable TV network, which offers superfast broadband using Docsis 3 technology to 34pc of Irish homes. This matches the situation across Europe as a whole, where Docsis 3 is also the leading superfast technology, reaching 37pc of homes. But so far Ireland has only limited coverage from the other superfast technologies.  

·       FTTP (fibre-to-the-premises, meaning to apartment blocks or individual homes) is available to just 2pc of Ireland, against an average of 12pc for Europe as a whole.  

·       VDSL, which provides superfast broadband across the telephone network, is at an early stage of rollout, with less than 1pc coverage at end-2011 compared with a European average of 21pc.

“When we add all these technologies together we have to take account of the overlap,” explained Tim Johnson, who led the project as Point Topic’s chief analyst.  

“This is how we get to superfast coverage of 36pc in Ireland.”

The problem is that the superfast operators compete to serve the richer and more densely populated areas in each country, leaving others underserved.  

“Hopefully, this project will give policy-makers some of the information they need to start addressing that problem,” said Johnson.

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