Forget the cities, Ireland’s counties need broadband improvement now, writes Alex Salter, CEO of SamKnows.
Rural broadband is the critical issue for Ireland’s digital future. Broadband access is no longer a nice to have commodity, but a necessity for consumers, businesses and Ireland’s rural communities.
If the country is to continue its economic recovery, broadband access, as well as clear insight into those services that are provided, has to reach far beyond urban centres.
With better broadband, everyone benefits – consumers, businesses (whatever the size), remote workers, social services, Government. It is no longer a discussion that can be ignored.
Urban environments might dictate broadband access and investment through tradition, but for Ireland to succeed, wide swathes of the country need investment, new access and improved services.
A large proportion of the country’s GDP comes from what Government would call ‘remote areas’ and it is these rural areas that are driving Ireland’s success.
Innovation will come from those outside traditional city hotspots and it is a sad state that much of the country is undervalued and has seen underinvestment.
It is both alarming and shortsighted that development might continue to stall. A significant part of the country cannot be left behind. The cities already have a clear digital agenda – yes, they need further investment, but it is the outlying areas that hold potential success for the country.
The recession hit hardest in rural areas, but as a result it has also created a community with significant entrepreneurial spirit. Without broadband access, this will be squashed.
Following the downturn, unemployment rose by 192% in rural areas. How are businesses supposed to return to success without suitable modern access and broadband infrastructure?
The numbers speak for themselves. More than anything, it should be a matter of fairness. Ireland’s rural communities need to be on a level playing field. They should not, as demonstrated in a recent Independent report, be struggling to match the moon for broadband speeds.
The Government is trying to change the situation, but more needs to be done. A recent report from The Commission for the Economic Development of Rural Areas (CEDRA) highlighted that broadband access is not just a political issue, but a human right, or at least to those living in rural areas.
To succeed, substantial investment must occur, but there are several issues to overcome. The first is for the government to stop mudslinging and to commit to its promises. There is little point locking heads over previous schemes’ successes and future promises.
For example, Pat Rabbitte, current Minister for Communications, has pledged that every single home in Ireland will have at least 30mb/s broadband by the end of 2015. This is a big promise and if followed through on, transformative, but assurances like this have occurred before and failed to materialise.
That said, it is echoed by a similar claim in April 2014 that €500m has been put aside to provide 450,000 homes in Ireland broadband access which previously had no access at all.
If progress is made the benefits are clear. Remote, flexible working is changing the global way businesses operate, and Ireland will be left behind if the country lacks the infrastructure to accommodate this cultural change.
The key for everyone is to understand which specific rural areas require initial investment and then to utilise funds efficiently. Blindly throwing money around will not solve the core issue. With the right insight of the existing broadband market, Ireland should hopefully change for the better.
Working together – Government (central and local), regulators, Internet Service Providers, consumers and independent bodies – is the only way that success will occur.
Alex Salter is CEO of SamKnows, a world leader in broadband measurement. It is currently carrying out research in Ireland on the country’s broadband market. To take part for free, visit http://www.samknows.ie.