Broadband out of reach for 20pc of rural Irish, villages left behind

25 May 2016

Almost 20pc of people living in small towns in Ireland can’t access broadband, with rural users unhappy with speeds and villages left behind when it comes to connectivity.

Broadband penetration has hit 91pc of Irish suburbs, but just 69pc of its villages. One -in-five people in small towns say they can’t access broadband at all and one-third claim internet speeds can’t even support “all their family requirements”.

That’s according to a major piece of research from Amárach Research and Vodafone that looked at connectivity throughout Ireland’s rural areas.

Canvassing rural residents and small businesses around the country, it found that a quarter of people feel speeds are too slow (rising to 44pc for people in detached country homes), while a pretty worrying one-in-five have to leave home in order to access the internet.

It’s not all doom and gloom, though, with the communal benefit of internet – if you get online –making rural life a more attractive proposition.

For example, a significant majority said they felt online shopping gave rural residents the advantages that city-dwellers have had for a long time, with most agreeing that both family and social life improves with good internet access.

National Broadband Plan

The report has come out at a troubling time for rural areas of Ireland when it comes to broadband accessibility. The previous government’s much-promoted National Broadband Plan is in a bit of a confusing state at the moment.

The plan originally aimed at connecting 1.8m citizens to a minimum of 30Mbps by 2020. That would only be possible if tendered contracts were awarded this year, however, delays in that stage – until July next year – mean this deadline could be pushed out as far as 2022.

Then, amid the heel-dragging creation of the current Government it appeared that the Department of Communications – which had been managing the whole thing – had lost control of the plan to the Department of Regional Development, Rural Affairs, Arts and the Gaeltacht, under the stewardship of Minister Heather Humphreys.

Now it seems that both departments will work on it, with reports like this “underlining the benefits high-speedeed broadband” around the country, according to Humphreys.

“As part of my new remit for Rural Affairs, I will be working with local authorities and other agencies to help accelerate the rollout of broadband in rural Ireland,” she said.

“The Government will also continue to work with commercial providers, including Vodafone Ireland, to identify the broadband blackspots which are in need of State intervention, so that we can ensure that within five years every home and business will have a high-speed connection.”

“The possibilities and benefits of digital connectivity are endless, not just for rural Ireland, but the country as a whole,” said Anne O’Leary, CEO, Vodafone Ireland. “The majority of our population still live in rural Ireland and it will be critical that all of society is in a position to take equal advantage of the digital revolution.”

*Update at 14.30, 25 May: The headline for this article has been amended from previously implying access was impossible.

Rural Ireland image via Maria_Janus/Shutterstock

Gordon Hunt was a journalist with Silicon Republic