Monday 16 October 2017

Adrian Weckler: Why Eurostat's latest internet access figures are wrong

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SO only 82pc of Irish households can access an internet connection? Sorry Eurostat, but that just doesn’t ring true.

The European Commission’s latest statistics bulletin lists out figures for “internet access” and “broadband connections”. Almost one in five Irish homes, it says, does not have “access” to an internet connection. After all the national broadband strategies and fibre rollouts, could this be the case?

Let’s look at some context. According to figures accepted by the telecoms regulator, some 92pc of ‘premises’ (including businesses) with landlines can get an internet connection via those lines. It is also not disputed that a further estimated 200,000 ‘premises’ (including businesses) are covered under the first National Broadband Scheme, run by 3 Ireland and subsidised by the state.

Now let’s look at the how the Eurostat figures were compiled. According to today’s release “households were asked about internet access by any member of the household at home”. In other words, someone knocked on a door, said they were doing a survey on broadband and asked for a response.

It’s not hard to imagine how fact got mixed up with protest.

I know many people who have access to multiple sources of internet connectivity (by phone or dongle, for example) who protest that they are cut off via a “digital divide” because they cannot get 30Mbs. They have a legitimate gripe. But that does not mean they have zero online access.

This leads to the second consideration: what defines an ‘internet connection’? For many, it is a broadband connection of at least a few megabits per second. Personally, I think this is fair enough: you can’t really get by on 0.2Mbs in today’s connected world.

But that is not the question that was asked. And it is not what is currently being reported, either.

There are surely far fewer households than 18pc which do not have internet access. If it were one in 10, I’d still regard that as surprisingly high. But it might be just about believable.

To be clear, Irish people definitely have a fair expectation of getting decent broadband, wherever they live. And there are many reasons to be critical of how rural broadband rollout is being pursued.

But reports such as this one surely cause more confusion than clarification.

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