Ireland ‘unlikely’ to get 100% coverage of fast broadband by 2020

EU report blames public procurement issues for delays, with rural areas lagging behind

The number of households in Ireland with ultra-fast broadband has increased from 2.5 per cent to 18 per cent, but the EU target for 2020 at 50 per cent is beyond reach. Photograph: iStock

The number of households in Ireland with ultra-fast broadband has increased from 2.5 per cent to 18 per cent, but the EU target for 2020 at 50 per cent is beyond reach. Photograph: iStock

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While Ireland has passed EU targets for universal access to basic broadband throughout the State, it will have difficulty reaching the same targets for fast broadband by 2020, and reaching even half that level of coverage for ultra-fast broadband, a report by the European Court of Auditors predicts.

Fast broadband coverage – between 30 and 100 megabits per second (mbps) – has risen sharply from 31 per cent to 89 per cent between 2011 and 2017, nine percentage points above the EU average and placing Ireland 10th in the EU league table.

But the report says that “based on past progress and present plans”, overcoming the last hurdle to get to 100 per cent coverage by 2020 is “unlikely”.

The delays in Ireland are based on public procurement issues and, like other EU states, there is a particular challenge in rural areas. Rural areas remain problematic in most states; 14 out of all 28 member states had less than 50 per cent fast broadband coverage in rural areas. Only 15 per cent of all rural households had subscribed to ultra-fast broadband by mid-2017.

Beyond reach

The percentage of households in Ireland with ultra-fast subscriptions (100mbps-plus) has increased from 2.5 per cent to 18 per cent in the same period, but the EU target for 2020 at 50 per cent is beyond reach.

The audit of five member states – Ireland, Poland, Italy, Hungary and Germany – shows that although broadband coverage has generally been improving across the EU, the goal of ensuring that half of European households have ultra-fast broadband connections by 2020 is significantly behind target, say the auditors.

A recent a study of more than 63 million broadband speed tests globally found Ireland is 36th worldwide, with an average speed of 13.92mbps.

The Court of Auditors report stresses the economic importance of investment in broadband, stating “an increase of 10 per cent in broadband connections in a country could result in a 1 per cent increase in GDP per capita per year” and could “raise productivity by 1.5 per cent over the next five years”.

Loans

The EU is providing some €15 billion during the 2014-2020 period, including €5.6 billion in loans from the European Investment Bank, to support these objectives.

The commission assesses the full cost of meeting the targets at some €250 billion, the bulk of which is to be met by business. Ireland’s National Broadband Strategy will see top-up public financing assisting where connections are not viable on a business basis. In Ireland that is estimated at 540,000 households.

Recently, the European Investment Bank announced plans to grant a loan to Ireland of €500 million for broadband investment.

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