Reducing the Digital Divide – Why Ireland Needs Better Broadband

Jul 18, 2017

by Will Doyle, Chambers Ireland Public Affairs Team 

Why do we need better broadband? 

In today’s increasingly digitized economy, access to high-speed broadband is no longer a luxury but an economic necessity. However, for many homes and businesses around this country, it remains unavailable. If growth is to occur at a national level, rural SMEs and start-ups must be able to access reliable and high speed broadband. Similarly, consumers in rural Ireland cannot engage in e-commerce services or shop online without such access. Educational resources are also increasingly managed online and we risk leaving huge portions of the country behind in all of these areas if the digital divide is not addressed as soon as possible. To be on the wrong side of the digital divide means missing out on economic and social opportunities, and has a serious effect on the ability of SMEs in particular to grow, to trade and to carry out simple day to day operations. As well as fostering indigenous industries, Ireland must be able to compete internationally to attract FDI. Without sufficiently fast and reliable broadband Ireland becomes a much less attractive destination from which to run a business in today’s interconnected, global economy.

What is causing this digital divide?

Low population density and challenging geography are the key factors contributing to the digital divide. State intervention has been identified as the best way to close this divide and meet the European Commission’s Digital Agenda Goals. The Department of Communications, Energy and Natural Resources (DCENR) has identified the areas likely to require state intervention; in this ‘Intervention Area’ there are a total of 990,000 citizens, which is 21% of the population. 84,500 ‘delivery points’ were added this past year due to expected commercial investment not materializing, increasing the size and scope of the Intervention Area.

Broadband – Budget 2018

Chambers Ireland’s Pre Budget 2018 Submission makes the following three recommendations for Government:

First, as of 4 July 2017, the National Broadband Plan (NBP), which was formed to provide this state intervention, has been delayed yet again for another year. Now it may be 2019 before we can expect the first homes to be connected. This only reinforces the need for action from Government to solve this pressing and serious issue. While it is now likely that the NBP will have to be revaluated in light of the 300,000 premises recently removed from the ‘Intervention Area’ of the NBP, there must be a sense of urgency and Government should roll out the plan as soon as possible.

Second, in revaluating the NBP, the Department of Communications, Climate Action and Environment needs to examine the suitability of the download and upload speeds contained in the current plan, ensuring that the standards set are sufficiently future proofed. Download and upload speeds should take into account the future needs of businesses, and the current minimum goals of 30mpbs for downloads and 6mbps for uploads should be increased to reflect the pace of development in this sphere.

Third, the provisions for ‘future proofing’ broadband infrastructure must be carefully examined in the bidding process and the winning tender should be allocated with this in mind. Such a significant piece of investment by the State must not be obsolete in terms of technological requirements a few years from now and must be capable of being easily and affordably enhanced or upgraded in line with future demands.

Broadband is not only an economic issue; it also a quality of life issue, and businesses are keenly aware of the flexibility which enhanced connectivity can bring. The digital divide that currently exists between urban and rural Ireland must be addressed as soon as possible to enable businesses all over the country to compete on a level playing field.

The full version of the Chambers Ireland Pre Budget Submission can be accessed here

Will Doyle is a Boston College Intern working with Chambers Ireland Public Affairs Team for Summer 2017. 

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