Stop hiding behind PC excuse, says lobbyist


29 Aug 2006

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Figures collated from the latest household survey on telecoms and broadband access in Europe show that Ireland’s poor broadband penetration has nothing to do with static levels of PC penetration amongst homes and businesses, a lobby group has claimed.

The European Commission report on Friday showed that one in four EU households is now connected to the internet via broadband. However, the report still illustrated Ireland’s lamentable position of 14th place in the original EU 15 in terms of broadband progress.

Ireland Offline spokesman Damian Mulley said that telecoms companies, regulators and politicians have consistently claimed that Ireland’s static 44pc rate of PC penetration was to blame for the country’s 7-8pc broadband penetration.

The European Commission report showed that 36pc of Ireland’s population had access to the internet. The vast lion’s share of internet users (29pc of the population) are still on dial-up.

Across the EU15, the average PC penetration is 54pc, average internet penetration is 42pc, average broadband penetration is 25pc and average dial-up penetration is 17pc.

Across the entire EU, PC penetration is 52pc, internet penetration is 39pc, broadband penetration is 23pc and dial-up is 16pc.

Mulley says that last week’s European Commission report actually indicates that countries with a lower PC penetration rate actually have a higher broadband penetration rate.

He cited the Czech Republic as proof, which has a PC penetration rate less than Ireland at 41pc but has a broadband penetration rate of 10pc, ahead of Ireland.

Poland also has a PC penetration rate of just 41pc but has a broadband penetration rate of 13pc. Hungary has a PC penetration of only 36pc yet has a broadband penetration rate ahead of Ireland at 11pc. The same holds true for Latvia with a PC penetration rate of 35pc and a broadband penetration rate of a whopping 13pc.

“The problem has always been availability,” Mulley said, referring to a Chambers Ireland report last year that showed that one third of Irish small to medium-sized enterprises that actually wanted broadband couldn’t get it. “It is also down to price. Line rental in Ireland is the most significant part of a phone bill in Ireland. The main reason cited by Europeans for not getting broadband is price.”

Looking at some EU15 member states with similar PC penetration rates as Ireland, Mulley cited Italy, which has a PC penetration rate of 47pc but a broadband penetration rate of 12pc. In Italy, only 17pc of the population used dial-up compared with Ireland’s 29pc.

Spain has a PC penetration rate of 46pc, a broadband penetration rate of 16pc and a dial-up penetration rate of only 11pc compared with Ireland’s lumbering 29pc of the population still using this outmoded technology to access the internet.

When asked about teenagers accessing broadband-intensive websites like Youtube.com and Myspace.com and the potential of such demand actually influencing broadband growth, Mulley said that the problem lies primarily with the person that pays the phone bill.

“Irish people don’t see broadband as a necessity but rather as a luxury,” he explained. “People are hammered with expensive phone bills. What you need right now is the person that controls the phone bill in the household to look at broadband and this could mean operators coming up with alternative billing options.

“It was teenagers who made prepaid mobile phones a roaring success because people weren’t afraid of spending.”

With operators like BT and Imagine offering broadband for around €10, Mulley agrees that the price points have fallen. “However, the main difficulty for billpayers is that people still need to sign contracts and sign up for direct debits whereas I believe a more flexible option that takes the onus off the billpayer could transform the situation.”

He concluded: “All of these European reports show that Ireland is still 14th place out of 15 countries and unless some miracle happens between now and the next election we will still be in 14th place this time next year.”

By John Kennedy