Digital divide: stuck in the slow lane

Average speeds are four times slower than in Singapore and disadvantaged areas fare worst

 

If politicians are serious about a national spatial strategy and creating vibrant industrial hubs outside the greater Dublin area, they must deliver high speed, cost effective broadband to the regions. The record of successive governments has been abysmal: plenty of plans and promises but few achievements. Ireland now ranks as one of the poorest connected countries in the developed world and broadband charges are way out-of-line with EU competitors.

Brexit represents the most immediate threat to living standards. But it is only one of many. Competitiveness is being lost. Action is needed to encourage regional development and to close a growing income gap with Dublin. It is no surprise to find that Dublin and its satellite towns enjoy the fastest broadband speeds and the greatest penetration. In today’s world, broadband has become a business and social necessity and Ireland’s performance places it firmly in the slow lane.

Employers’ group Isme criticised this performance and the negative effect it has on job creation. Average broadband speeds here are four times slower than in Singapore and, as might be expected, disadvantaged parts of the State receive the worst service. Government policy now proposes, through private sector involvement, to add a further 300,000 premises to the broadband system by the end of next year. The initiative is welcome, even if belated.

Cost remains a central concern. In spite of supplying customers with some of the slowest and most expensive broadband in the EU, major telecoms firms are planning to increase their charges during the coming months. This behaviour mimics recent price increases by insurance companies. Consumer prices in Ireland are the second most expensive within the EU. Domestic electricity charges rank third. At the same time, surging property prices and rents are becoming a barrier to the recruitment of necessary foreign technology workers. Government and regulatory agencies must get a grip if the hope of creating a competitive economy and balanced society is to be realised.