Rural broadband delays put us near bottom of EU table, prices double EU average
A lack of rural broadband has condemned Ireland to one of Europe's lowest rates of broadband take-up, according to new EU figures.
And the country's stark digital divide, with a third facing inadequate broadband, means that Irish people are among the continent's most poorly equipped at "basic digital skills", according to the European Commission.
The EU's latest official 'Digital Scoreboard', which compares how countries are doing against one another, shows that Ireland lies 20th in broadband take-up despite city-based services being among the best in Europe.
And Ireland now comes joint last in Europe for fibre connectivity in rural regions.
The report also shows that home broadband prices in Ireland are twice the EU average when measured as a proportion of income.
However, Ireland is the best in Europe at making the most of broadband for those who have it. The new EU report shows that Ireland tops the list for small firms selling online, exporting online and using the web as a percentage of turnover.
The figures come as confusion continues over responsibility for rural broadband roll-out among Irish government ministers. Taoiseach Enda Kenny has moved to try clarify the issue, telling the Dáil that the rollout would be split among two departments.
Contractual issues, he said, will remain the responsibility of the Department of Communications, under new Communications Minister Denis Naughten.
"When that contract is awarded, the roll-out for the requirement of the broadband and task forces throughout the country will shift because of the emphasis made in the last 80 days in regard to regional and rural development," said the Taoiseach.
At this point, he said, it will become a job for Rural Development Minister Heather Humphreys.
Mr Kenny told the Dáil it would be "enormously complex" to remove the contractual proceedings from the Department of Communications.
Fianna Fáil's Éamon Ó Cuív claimed there is a "turf war" between the two departments which "is unhelpful and could actually delay the roll-out of broadband to rural Ireland".
"The roll-out of a high speed broadband service should be one of the top priorities for this Government," said Mr Ó Cuiv. "However, the fact that responsibility for the project appears to be falling between two departments is an extremely worrying development."
Ireland's National Broadband Plan has promised to connect all Irish rural homes by 2022.