Red flag warnings raised over Irish broadband

JOE GILL: Red flag warnings raised over Irish broadband

The President of Microsoft Brad Smith was critical of broadband availability in Ireland while speaking at a conference last week.

He was especially concerned for the population outside the greater Dublin area where service is patchy and in some places is simply unworkable for business purposes.

It is good that one of the global IT companies that pioneered the foreign direct investment — or FDI — trail in Ireland should call out the Republic for a shortcoming of this type.

Mr Smith has no political agenda when commenting about Ireland. Instead, he is highlighting a fact which is an obstacle in the economic development of a country that Microsoft has made its home for decades.

Moreover, his voice ought to be a red flag for any policymakers or politicians who are fulminating about the value of broadband in the future of the Irish economy.

It is unequivocal that high capacity affordable broadband has the same import for rural Ireland as electrification had in the 1950s.

If each house and commercial building across the land has fast internet connectivity it opens up a plethora of opportunities that can trigger a wave of investment and job creation that can push back against the inexorable decline in retailing and agricultural employment which has defined the rural economy for a long time.

I was debating the success of the Ludgate Hub in Skibbereen recently. My question was ‘why is it that such a high power internet location is not replicated in every town across Ireland?’.

The answer was that Ludgate benefitted from a small coterie of business and community leaders who were prepared to take up the challenge of establishing such an asset in their local town.

Is it such a stretch to ask every community to pursue a similar strategy of bringing together well-minded business leaders, a sponsoring telecoms company and someone willing to contribute an unused commercial building to create a hundred Ludgates?

Each of these could house entrepreneurs and other business people who see the advantages of basing themselves in rural Ireland.

And those advantages are many.

First and foremost is affordable housing relative to the prices being demanded in major cities.

But, to that you can add a raft of quality-of-life factors that make a decision to locate in rural Ireland much easier.

In years past, choosing to settle down in a rural location carried significant risk if the employer you joined subsequently closed, leaving limited options for alternative employment.

This is where high speed affordable broadband enters the fray.

Broadband is a window into a global online market that is not overly concerned about your location.

Instead, it is a gigantic marketplace where clever entrepreneurs and technology professionals can carve out an income that is based on not where you live but what you know.

As the Irish Government continues its efforts to rebalance the Irish economy so that rural Ireland over indexes in job creation and investment it must embrace policies that deliver hyper speed broadband.

While not as visible as telegraph poles or lighting it is of critical importance in positioning the rural economy properly.

Not only does broadband allow business people and individuals communicate and export their goods and services it also provides a virtual highway on which you can source product to make your business even more competitive.

This two way virtual street is central to the vision of Ireland being plugged into a global economy not just around the docklands of Dublin and Cork but across the whole country.

Our success or failure will be defined by how rapidly we cover the country with a world class broadband service available to all.

If Mr Smith’s comments help accelerate that journey then they are well made.

Let’s hope everyone is listening online to that message.

Joe Gill is director of origination and corporate broking with Goodbody Stockbrokers. His views are personal.

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