Rural Ireland in broadband doldrums, says EU

Rural dwellers’ access to ‘superfast’ broadband is at a 25% maximum versus the 89% coverage accessible to those living in Dublin, according to a new EU study.

Almost 36% of Irish homes can subscribe to ‘superfast’ broadband, which the EU-funded study defines as a service of at least 30Mbps (megabits per second) of bandwidth. However, almost all of these homes are in Dublin. Nowhere outside Dublin has more than 25% superfast broadband, with many rural areas close to zero, according to the EU study. In Dublin however, superfast coverage is already at 89%.

Entitled Broadband Coverage in Europe in 2011, the study compares broadband coverage of all kinds across Europe. While it shows that Ireland does a good job in providing basic broadband to over 97% of the population, including 94% in rural areas, it highlights a much bigger challenge with the superfast target.

In the study of the EU27 states, plus Norway and Iceland, than 50% can already access the EU’s ‘digital heaven’ target of total access to superfast broadband by 2020.

Neelie Kroes, the EU Commission vice-president responsible for the EU’s ‘Digital Agenda’, notes that only three EU states have less than 90% ‘basic’ broadband. Ireland has among the worst drops from urban to rural ‘superfast’ broadband.

A separate study by broadband specialists Point Topic shows that Ireland is now nearly 36% towards achieving its ‘superfast’ target. This means that 36% of Irish homes can subscribe to superfast broadband.

As one of Europe’s most rural countries, the EU report suggests that Ireland does a good job in providing basic broadband to over 97% of the population, including 94% of those in rural areas. But it faces a much bigger challenge with the superfast target where current rural coverage is virtually zero.

At present, Ireland relies almost entirely on its extensive cable TV network, which uses Docsis 3 technology to offer superfast broadband to 34% of Irish homes. This matches the situation across Europe as a whole where Docsis 3 is also the leading superfast technology, reaching 37% of homes.

But, so far, Ireland has only limited coverage from the other superfast technologies. FTTP (fibre-to-the-premises, meaning to apartment blocks or individual homes) is available to just 2% of Ireland, against an average of 12% for Europe. VDSL, which provides superfast broadband across the telephone network, is at an early stage of rollout with less than 1% coverage at end-2011 versus a European average of 21%.

“When we add these technologies together we have to take account of the overlap,” says Tim Johnson, Point Topic’s chief analyst on the project. “This is how we get to an Irish superfast coverage of 36%.”

Neelie Kroes wants to see the EU set aside €7bn from its budget for investment in broadband. This is designed to draw in private funds of many times that amount.

“This study gives us the best view so far of where action is needed on broadband coverage,” says Kroes. “It will help to guide decisions on where EU and private money can be invested to provide the best long-term return for taxpayers and investors such as pension funds.”


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