Ireland considered to have one of the better EU records for rural broadband
European Court of Auditors puts State in sixth place out of 28 EU states for fast rural broadband with more than 80% coverage
The report by the Court of Auditors said Ireland had significantly improved broadband coverage between 2011 and 2017, with more than 90% overall coverage. Photograph: Getty Images
Ireland is already thought to have one of the better records in the EU for rural broadband penetration despite the controversy surrounding the cost and timeframe of the National Broadband Plan.
An in-depth audit conducted by the European Court of Auditors last year showed the State in sixth place out of the 28 EU states in terms of fast rural broadband (30 megabits per second) with more than 80 per cent coverage.
Of the five states ahead of Ireland, two were tiny countries (Malta and Luxembourg) while the Netherlands and Belgium were also more urbanised societies. In fifth was the UK, which had marginally more coverage than Ireland.
However, when it came to superfast broadband (100 mbps) Ireland did not perform so well, finishing 12th out of 28 but still above the EU average. Subscriptions were at about 18 per cent.
The report was published in June of last year, and examined the broadband plans of all 28 EU countries against three EU targets. The most significant of these were two fast (30mbps) and superfast (100mbps) targets. The former was to achieve 100 per cent coverage by 2020, while for the latter the target was 50 per cent coverage.
The report found that across the EU there was less incentive for the private sector to invest in broadband provision. As a consequence, rural areas “remain less well connected than cities, and take-up of ultra-fast broadband is significantly behind target”.
The Court of Auditors also noted that the EU Commission estimated as far back as 2013 that up to €250 billion would be required to achieve the 2020 broadband targets.
Ireland had significantly improved broadband coverage between 2011 and 2017, the report concluded, with more than 90 per cent overall coverage.
This was in contrast to countries like Greece and France which have yet to achieve 50 per cent coverage. A further seven EU states remained below 80 per cent in 2017.
However, of the five countries highlighted, the report found that Ireland and Italy were unlikely to have fast broadband available to all citizens by next year based on their current plans, while it was possible to achieve that goal in Hungary and Germany.
In general, the report finds that across the EU the “fast broadband coverage hides a significant discrepancy between coverage in urban and rural areas”.
“Across the EU coverage in rural areas was 47 per cent of the households in 2016, against the overall average of 80 per cent.
“Only three, relatively small or urbanised member states, Malta, Luxembourg and the Netherlands, had coverage in their rural areas equivalent to the urban areas.”
It noted that in France its own authorities had questioned the relevance of the use of fibre to deliver broadband in certain areas, “since the costs of fibre are high and the implementation timing too long. France is now considering the use of other technologies such as 4G fixed wireless connections in certain areas,” it noted.
The Court of Auditors finds the targets for ultra-fast broadband (50 per cent take-up by 2020) “remains very challenging for all member states”.
“Although take-up has increased since 2013, in 2017 it remained under 20 per cent in 19 member states, a long way short of the 50 per cent target. Across the EU only 15 per cent of European households had subscribed to connections of at least 100mbps by mid-2017,” it says.
Ireland is 12th, above the average and ahead of countries like France, Germany, the UK and Finland.