Rural Broadband: It’s faster to drive from Longford to Dublin than download a film there

Minister promises action to bring 300,000 consumers up to speed by end of next year

Legan, Co Longford has the slowest broadband in the country

Legan, Co Longford has the slowest broadband in the country

 

The dream of high-speed broadband for hundreds of thousands of people living in rural Ireland has come a step closer after the Government struck a deal with Eir which commits the company to connecting 300,000 homes and businesses to the grid before the end of next year.

The Department of Communications has also updated its broadband programme to take into account the failures of private operators to deliver on previously made commitments to provide high-speed broadband to almost 100,000 homes and businesses in urban and semi-rural areas.

Minister for Communications Denis Naughten repeated a frequently made pledge that the “vast majority” of Irish people would have access to internet speeds of “more than 30 megabytes by 2020” under Government plans which have just been fine-tuned.

However, consumers living in areas with little or no access to the internet today might be forgiven for thinking that they have been down this road before.

Slow lane

Mr Naughten is the third minister since 2012 to roll out plans for connecting every home in the State to the high-speed network and while some progress has been made over the years close to one million homes and businesses remain stuck in the slow lane.

There was little doubting the Minister’s determination to be the one who delivers on the Government’s long-standing pledge. He said he had “more skin in the game” then any other TD in Leinster House with many people living in his Roscommon-Galway constituency struggling to get online.

The problem is very real for many people with broadband speeds in some rural areas of the State are up to 36 times slower than those in towns and cities, a recent survey by price comparison website Switcher revealed.

Based on 27,000 speed tests, the research pointed to a major urban/rural digital divide and one that has grown rather than narrowed with the advent of newer technologies.

It found Legan in Co Longford was officially the slowest area in the State, with average broadband speed of just 2mbps, compared with Drimnagh in Dublin 12, the fastest area, which enjoyed an average speed of 72mbps.

To put those numbers into perspective, someone living in Legan could spend more than 3½ hours downloading a two-hour film which someone in Drimnagh could get in six minutes . It would actually be faster for the Longford dweller to drive to Drimnagh, download the film and drive home.

The Switcher survey also showed that almost one-third of internet connections are slower than 5mbps, which is now not even classified as broadband in the US.

Credibility

But things are changing, Mr Naughten promised. He said that by the end of next year more than 300,000 people would be able to watch “200 high definition Netflix programmes at any one time without interruption” with speeds that would rival those available in South Korea and faster than those available in New York City.

He accepted that when it comes to “credibility there is an issue in relation to promises made that have not been fulfilled” but said this time it would be different.

Repeatedly he stressed the “90 weeks” timeframe and the impact the Eir deal would have, under which the company would be making high-speed broadband available to “one home every minute of every working day”.

“This is not about promises or plans, this is action,” he said. Almost half of those living in his constituency were struggling to get access to high-speed broadband so he knew “more than anyone, how difficult it is. This is not a plan, this is action.”

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