Rural firms struggle as city-based businesses thrive in online sales
City-based Irish small firms are top of the European league for e-commerce and online sales while rural companies flounder, according to the latest figures from the European Commission.
Eurostat's Digital Scoreboard, which measures the performance of small companies in the EU's 28 countries, found when Irish businesses get access to broadband, they excel.
According to the European statistics, the number of Irish small firms selling products or services online is twice the EU average of 16pc.
And Irish small to medium- sized businesses record more than double the turnover from e-commerce activities compared with the rest of the EU.
Meanwhile, Ireland leads the European tables for small companies selling online across borders, with 16pc of small and medium-sized firms trading on the internet. This compares with a European average of just 7.5pc. However, the lack of broadband in rural areas means Ireland badly lags behind other European countries when it comes to overall broadband coverage, skills and adoption, according to the European statistics.
"The digital skills of the population exhibit significant gaps, with only 44pc of the population having sufficient digital skills to operate effectively online," said the European Commission.
"This places [Ireland] 22nd out of 28 countries for this indicator."
There is also a serious skills shortage in information and communications technology (ICT) affecting the country, according to the Commission.
"Ireland is lacking skilled ICT professionals," said the EU report. "Demand for skilled ICT professionals within the economy has been rising while the supply is not keeping pace. Around half of enterprises trying to employ ICT specialists report difficulties doing so."
Meanwhile, Ireland ranks 20th out of 28 EU countries on broadband take-up.
"Delivering the national broadband plan is a competitiveness issue," said a spokesman for Chambers Ireland, a national business organisation.
"Lack of broadband capacity in a region undermines the ability of regionally located Irish businesses to compete internationally and prevents workers living in rural areas being able to work remotely, very often a necessity in a modern enterprise."
Online media consumption is also far behind other European countries, with Ireland ranking last in the EU when it comes to looking up news online.