Disgrace of rural broadband as one in three struggles just to get email
Shocking broadband surveys suggest there is a crisis in rural areas, with large parts of the country at breaking point due to unusable connections.
A Switcher.ie survey of 27,000 internet users revealed that some areas of Ireland are struggling with speeds insufficient to load email messages or perform basic Google searches.
A separate poll from Vodafone suggests that more than one in three Irish people said they might have to relocate to a nearby town or city for work reasons if connectivity remains poor.
In all, more than one in three of the 26,829 tests logged by Switcher.ie showed download speeds of under five megabits per second (Mbs), which is inadequate to perform most online tasks in a typical household or small business.
The worst area in Ireland is Legan in Longford, which has an average download speed of under 2Mbs, according to the survey. The Longford townland is 36 times slower than parts of Dublin, where download speeds average up to 72Mbs.
It comes after a separate Vodafone survey claimed that seven out of 10 small Irish firms were being held back by poor broadband infrastructure.
It puts pressure on government planners, with Communications Minister Denis Naughten admitting that the state-subsidised National Broadband Plan faces a further delay in its roll-out until 2018.
Under Government guidelines, Ireland's rural broadband roll-out is due to take between three and five years, with a likely finishing date of 2023 on the cards.
The scheme, which is intended to guarantee minimum broadband speeds of 30Mbs for every premises in the country, was initially scheduled to be finished by 2021.
But the Switcher survey suggests that just one in four homes currently has broadband speeds of 30Mbs or over.
"In practical terms, it would take someone living in Legan in Longford over three-and-a-half hours to download a two-hour movie while people in Drimnagh in Dublin 12 can do this in just under six minutes," said Eoin Clarke, managing director of Switcher.ie.
"This is a stark difference that could have a real impact on quality of life for people in areas with sluggish speeds. And it can have an impact on house prices, education and local business, too."
The survey also showed that a small handful of rural spots are starting to benefit from micro roll-outs in fibre broadband. One area, Carlow's Ballon, recorded a speed of 989Mbs, the fastest in the country.
Both Eir and Vodafone say their fibre-to-the-home broadband services are currently being built out in towns around the country.
Siro, a joint venture between Vodafone and the ESB, claims to have 36,500 homes connectable to fibre broadband speeds of up to 1,000Mbs. Eir's fibre connection figures are thought to be at a similar level.
Government figures state there are between 1.8 million and two million premises to be connected in Ireland, with up to 900,000 eligible for state fibre intervention.
When asked about their plans for growth, nearly seven in 10 say slow, unreliable speeds prevent them from working properly and are holding growth back.
A spokesman for Eir said that 35,000 extra rural homes would get fibre broadband by the end of 2016, with 300,000 homes getting it by the end of 2018.