Firms move to cities as slow internet hits business
Rural groups have pleaded with the Government to speed up its broadband roll-out, claiming firms are moving away because of the lack of internet available to one in three homes and businesses.
"A lot of companies are telling us they were waiting to see if they'd get broadband next year," said Seamus Boland, chief executive of Irish Rural Link, which represents 500 community groups around the country.
"But now that it's been pushed out until 2022, they're telling us that they've stayed in the sticks long enough and are moving to the city. We're now looking at depopulation.
"Students who would normally come home are now staying in Dublin because they don't have the internet at home," he added.
The pleas come after a survey from Amarach Research and Vodafone revealed one-in-four rural residents would consider moving to urban areas because of broadband.
And Irish companies that were able to survive on low broadband speeds before say it is commercially unviable to do so anymore.
"Without a proper, fast internet connection we're absolutely dead in the water," said Seamus Quinn, managing director of MyItDepartment.ie, based in Athleague, Co Roscommon.
"Business has changed. We switched over to a cloud-based system last year. We were in Roscommon town and while the broadband was OK for a while, it was holding us back."
Mr Quinn's company recently moved to a facility close to a broadband mast in a rural part of Roscommon. The company was told it would have to dig its own fibre connection if it wanted city-speed broadband.
"The connection is only a mile away but we were told we'd need to dig it ourselves," he said.
"So we searched for a wireless company. We now pay €700 per month for a 100 megabit connection. For us the cost is OK because we're an online company, but you can't tell a farm supply company up the road they have to pay €700 a month for broadband. It's not viable."
According to the Government's rural survey figures, 757,000 rural homes and businesses remain outside modern broadband infrastructure. That figure equates to a third of all Irish premises.
The Government's National Broadband Plan is scheduled to connect all of the rural premises to fibre-speed broadband in a public-private partnership deal. However, delays to the plan mean the roll-out will not now begin until mid-2017, while completion is set for 2022.
Last week, a number of Ireland's biggest broadband operators said that the rural roll-out could happen "much quicker" than 2022.
"Once the contract is signed, we can do anything if we put our mind to it," said Vodafone Ireland chief executive Anne O'Leary. "We can certainly do it within three years."
Of rural homes that have some form of broadband, almost one-in-four uses the internet at home for work, according to the latest survey from Amarach and Vodafone. And nearly 150,000 of those say they would choose to avoid commuting some or all of the time because they can connect to work through the internet.
"Businesses and potential employees won't consider places with poor broadband infrastructure," said Gerard O'Neill, chairman of Amarach Research.
"It also suggests that having proper broadband improves the chance of attracting returning emigrants, many with skills."
Communications Minister Denis Naughten said he planned to investigate 4G mobile coverage as an "interim" solution to the lack of broadband. However, the Government has yet to provide any detail of such proposals.