Over one million working hours lost due to storm damage on phone and broadband lines

Over one million working hours lost due to storm damage on phone and broadband lines

 Felled trees which stood for over 100 years line the Marina in Cork city following Storm Ophelia. Damage to  Eir’s infrastructure left more than 11,000 customers without broadband, phone, and mobile services.

Communications regulator Comreg is seeking expert advice on how extreme weather events and other aspects of climate change could affect Ireland’s internet and telecoms networks now and into the future.


Check out our Sustainability and Climate Change Hub where you will find the latest news, features, opinions and analysis on this topic from across the various Irish Examiner topic desks and their team of specialist writers and columnists.

Comreg, which regulates companies across the sector, says it wants to identify vulnerabilities within the communications sector that have occurred or may occur due to climate change.

It also wants to understand what steps have already been taken or are planned by companies in the industry to adapt to or mitigate the effects of climate change.

According to the regulator, extreme weather events are having an “increasingly negative impact” on electronic communication networks and services.

As well as leaving homes without power and making travel treacherous, weather events also have had an impact on phone and broadband customers in recent years.

In 2020, it is estimated that 1.5 million user hours were lost as a result of storms and other natural phenomena, and this is expected to increase in the coming years.

Extreme weather events

Climate change is expected to lead to an increased frequency, intensity and/or duration of extreme weather events such as heavy falls of rain, hail and snow, warm spells and heat events, drought, storm surges, sea level rise and flooding.

Major incidents reported to Comreg’s web portal usually include software bugs, poorly implemented software updates and hardware failure.

However, in recent years, outages typically caused by weather events have been also reported.

“Storm Ophelia, in 2017, resulted in widespread levels of damage to the communications infrastructure.” it said.

“For example, the level of damage by Ophelia to Eir’s infrastructure left more than 11,000 customers without broadband, phone, and mobile services. In its statement, Eir confirmed that the damage extended to poles, cables, and mast infrastructure.” In the context of the Government’s wider plans on climate change, Comreg said that this expertise on climate change was being sought against the backdrop of the Climate Change Adaptation Plan for the Communications Sector, which was published in 2019.

That plan concluded: “As the climate is predicted to continue changing over the coming decades, the communications sector must prepare for, and adapt to, the changes associated with the climate; and “Identify areas of vulnerability, so that steps can be taken, and measures put in place, to avoid or minimise future adverse impacts within the communications sector, and exploit opportunities.” The expert advice Comreg is seeking will include a report detailing the climate change events that are most likely to affect Ireland’s communications infrastructure and assess the likelihood of a failure in key systems due to an extreme weather event.

Information will be gained from relevant stakeholders, such as phone and broadband providers in the sector, using the likes of workshops, surveys, and questionnaires.

Response to future impacts

That report should also examine ways to mitigate the potential for weather events to affect this infrastructure, explore ways for companies operating in the sector to reduce unnecessary power consumption, and make a set of proposals to respond to current and future impacts of climate change.

Comreg said it plans to publish and promote the report once finalised on its website and social media.

Separately, the Government has announced that the Mobile Phone and Broadband Taskforce would re-convene this year.

Ministers Heather Humphreys and Ossian Smyth said the taskforce was being restarted after initially running from 2016-19 and building on that “successful model”.

Ms Humphreys said that the Government’s plan for rural ireland commits to a model of regional social and economic development that is “sustainable”.

The minister said this taskforce should help deliver on that commitment.

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