Should people who can’t get broadband have to pay the full property tax?

29 May 2014

An interesting dilemma arose this week when someone close to me whose life is being held back by the lack of available broadband posed this question: should she have to pay the full property tax if her home can’t be served by what should be a basic human right in this day and age.

It’s the 21st century and across the world entire lives are being transformed and potentially being enriched by the availability of broadband on a plethora of devices. New horizons from an economic and educational perspective are being opened up in the developing world, especially in Africa, Asia and South America.

But in Ireland, a country that can spend €17.5bn on roads over a decade but can’t treat communications infrastructure with the same seriousness, people are missing out on opportunities that the digital age presents.

Having been racked and ruined by property speculation, government mismanagement of the economy and bullied into taking on 45pc of Europe’s banking debt, Irish people are continually faced with new taxes and charges.

The most contentious has so far been the property tax and many feel having already paid their stamp duty and other taxes it has been a step too far.

Another one is looming water charges. This is a divisive issue as Ireland is one of the few countries in the world where people pay for their water; water rates were abolished in decades past by a previous government more intent on winning votes rather than supporting a vital infrastructure.

The result is a creaking infrastructure where the quality of the water is really the issue – rather than the right or wrong of having to pay for something so necessary. Most people will pay for their water if the quality is right.

But back to broadband. My close relative is a mother of three young girls aged 6, 9 and 11. She lives about five miles from the nearest town in a reasonably well populated rural area and works three days a week in Dublin. Across the road from her is a massive state-of-the-art EU research centre no doubt connected with the best quality internet connectivity. Unfortunately nobody had the foresight to think about connecting up the nearby community, which consists of farms, schools and small businesses.

Her kids love technology, crave gadgets and need the internet to do keep up with school projects. She lives closer to Dublin than I do, but yet too far away from an urban centre to get DSL; cellular coverage is GPRS at best. Until recently she had been using a satellite broadband service but the provider demanded €250 just to upgrade her to their latest platform – unthinkable in these economic times and she quite rightly abandoned the service.

While the Government has unveiled a €512m plan to fibre-up the entire country, this could take years to accomplish. She, and others like her, need this technology now.

“I think us people in deprived areas for decent broadband should have a reduced rate of property tax,” she pointed out.

“Lets face it to get any kind of broadband we have to pay high installation fees. Why should our property tax be the same as others in serviced areas?”

Is it a reasonable question? I certainly think so.

Home values decimated by the quality of broadband?

Property taxes in Ireland are calculated in terms of the estimated value of your property.

If your property is putting you at a social and economic disadvantage, should that not reduce the desirability of your home?

This week we pointed out that while large parts of Ireland struggle to reach broadband speeds in comparison with its larger urban areas, MIT and NASA have made it possible to receive just under 20Mbps on the moon. There are hundreds of thousands of people on this island who would crave a measly 20Mbps in this day and age.

A study by satellite broadband provider Europasat into the state of broadband in rural parts of the UK and Ireland found Ireland was hit the worst when it came to poor broadband provision.

Some 60pc of residents in rural parts of Dublin believe people would be put off living in their areas because of extreme slow broadband issues. Not only that, 68pc of residents in the Republic of Ireland feel that local businesses and trade in their area suffer due to the state of broadband.

So a link has been established between the desirability of a residence and the availability of quality broadband.

It was a very astute question by my relative.

A human right and an economic necessity

In the early days of broadband in Ireland the lack of seriousness with which broadband was treated by the State was lamentable. Many of us joked that our waddling politicians thought broadband was some kind of show band. We wouldn’t have laughed if the problem hadn’t continued for as long as it has.

Four years ago hundreds of millions of euros were wasted on a daft scheme to bridge the digital divide with 3G. It changed nothing.

What policy makers need to realise is that broadband is an economic necessity, and therefore a human right.

Why? Basic things:

·      You cannot apply for a job in this day and age without having internet access to first of all discover jobs but also to apply for them. Prospective employers expect applications by email or internet, not by snail mail.

·      At a time of high unemployment but digital promise, it has to be noted that employers like Apple or Amazon will not employ people who live in areas where broadband of less than 5Mbps is available. That means many people who live in rural locations won’t be able to apply for certain jobs.

·      You are missing out on valuable savings and services if you don’t have a broadband connection – attractive offers via e-commerce sites, the efficiency of being able to pay for your Motor Tax online, etc.

·      From an education perspective, kids are required to complete projects in the evening at home that require being able to research online. A digital divide in the classroom? Yes it is.

So the simple truth is by being denied broadband in Ireland you are in effect being put at a disadvantage and disqualified from opportunities that your urban counterparts take for granted.

Will this make a difference to property tax rules. Most likely not – there’s a better chance of a cow being able to jump over the moon, but at least you can get 20Mbps there.

Broadband ignition image via Shutterstock

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