5 things we learned from Vodafone’s rural broadband report

26 May 2016

Vodafone, in collaboration with Amárach Research, yesterday produced an interesting report into digital connectivity throughout rural Ireland. It was filled with fascinating insights.

Connected Futures is the name of the report, which is a survey that “looks at the future”, rather than laments the past.

The future, though, isn’t exactly rosy. Not when the National Broadband Plan bounces around governmental departments, faces six-month tendering delays and subsequently two-year completion delays.

Asking 1,000 adults around rural Ireland for their views – as well as 100 micro-businesses – Connected Futures is an interesting read and, given this is not everything they have, we look forward to what follows.

But, for now, here are five things to take away from the report:

1. The internet can be the lifeblood of rural living

When connectivity is there, competition between rural living options and city alternatives loads in the favour of the former. That’s when benefits reducing cities’ advantage take hold, such as internet shopping.

According to the report, various benefits of living away from major cities include a sense of community, living away from crime and having bigger houses and land. When these are married with acceptable, or even optimal, broadband speeds, it’s all good.

Two-thirds of those surveyed felt that the internet means they have all the same shopping options as people living in cities and more than half agree that having access to the internet in their area makes life easier.

2. Broadband availability is crucial for towns to survive

The haves and have-nots. Broadband penetration in villages (69pc) lags way behind the suburbs (91pc), with an incredible one-in-five small town dwellers having no broadband access whatsoever.

One-quarter of those surveyed complained that their broadband speed is too slow, this complaint nearly doubles the further you get from towns, which is the general trend. Should something like the National Broadband Plan actually achieve its aims, morale would skyrocket.

Students could study from home, rather than being reliant on college access, with 70pc welcoming a situation where young people won’t have to move away from rural Ireland, as there will be more work opportunities nearby thanks to technology.

3. The business model

An interesting figure that emerges in the report is €2.7bn ‘consumer surplus’, which is the difference between what Ireland’s rural population pays for broadband, and what it would cost them should it fail. For businesses, this is exaggerated, as any drop in service can create immense costs.

Almost seven in 10 micro-business owners agree that slow and unreliable internet speeds currently prevent them and their staff from working efficiently, many can’t complete all their requirements with current speeds, with 62pc suggesting they could expand their businesses with better broadband.

More than one-third of micro-businesses would need to move to built-up areas if they couldn’t get broadband.

4. Road warriors

A surprising element of the report surrounded commute times. Of those who can access good internet, 20pc said they could work from home, not needing to commute.

Another 16pc said they could work from home for around two days a week if the internet is good enough, which extrapolated out means 150,000 workers in rural Ireland would be commuting more often – or all the time – if their broadband isn’t sufficient.

5. The price we pay

Both regular customers and micro-businesses surveyed felt paying over the odds for access to internet speeds that city-dwellers get for cheaper would not be fair. While nearly half the respondents would be willing to pay more for access to higher speeds at home, the vast majority disagree that that they should be expected to.

This is important given the news yesterday that the European Commission has produced an interesting report on the differing digital markets around the EU, showing Irish people pay a higher price than most for broadband.


Number five image, via Shutterstock

Gordon Hunt was a journalist with Silicon Republic