by Cormac Spencer, Consultant and Director with Link Personnel Services
I frequently discuss the importance of a good transport infrastructure for job creation and the economy as a whole, however having an effective communications infrastructure is equally, if not more important to Ireland in terms of our ability to do business at home and compete with others abroad. Think of how far communications infrastructure has come in the last 10 years and how it has impacted on the way business is done. It is less than 10 years since the first iPhone was released to the market, and now think of how much shopping and business is done on mobile devices alone, not to mention online in general. Things are moving quickly and the ability to keep abreast of changes is very important to a business if it wants to attract customers.
Although it has become integral to business, there is a dearth of broadband coverage in many areas of the country. While “broadband blackspots” in rural areas are well reported, even the big cities aren’t served properly in terms of access to high speed broadband. Dublin City and suburbs have 80% coverage while Limerick City and Suburbs have only 71% broadband coverage. So what does all of this really mean and why does it matter? In brief, it means companies don’t have an online shopfront to attract clients, and can’t trade online with customers in Ireland and abroad, (those Irish customers will look to sites in the UK and Europe to spend their money), it means that small businesses and farmers in rural areas may have to travel to the nearest town to lodge forms, it means that students may not have access to online learning resources, it means foreign investment is discouraged (who wants to set up a business if you can’t be sure your e-mail will reach its destination!) and it means potential problems for tourists who want strong Wi-Fi speeds in their hotel.
Broadband coverage has only gone up by 6 percentage points nationally from 2011 – 2016 despite the introduction of a National Broadband Plan (NBP) in 2012. This month the Minister for Communications, Climate Action and Environment announced that the plan is due to kick into a higher gear and will bring high speed broadband to 540,000 houses and businesses in the country within 2 years. The cost to the state will be between €1-1.5bn. This is absolute peanuts in terms of the benefits the country will reap from increased productivity and increased opportunities to do business.
Assuming the NBP’s targets are achieved, we will be in a much better place as an economy and a country, however a problem will remain. At this point 37% of SMEs do not have a website of even the most basic variety – you can lead a horse to water as they say. It’s fully understandable that a small business wouldn’t want to throw money away on a website when the internet connection to its’ premises and the surrounding areas is sub par, but if the NBP succeeds then SMEs need to access the financial supports available to them through their local authority and get online.
Just like you won’t find too many people who will commute for 3 hours each way on a rickety transport system to get to a job, so today’s customers want to trade with ease and efficiency without wasting hours of their time. By increasing broadband coverage, bettering our digital infrastructure and getting Irish businesses online to compete nationally and internationally we will increase trade, create jobs, attract investment, and ensure Ireland’s competitiveness into the future. Like the broadband we want, we should get it done Super Fast.