Northern Ireland’s major advantage over the Republic?

It looks like the Republic’s economic underbelly lies in the serious shortfall in its telecommunications infrastructure. According to Seán Murphy (subs needed), director of Chambers Ireland, “the 2005 IMD World Competitiveness Book, which tracks the performance of 60 countries, ranked Ireland 56th for its communications technology capabilities and 46th for its broadband subscriptions. While chambers have issues with how this survey defines broadband, the fact that internationally respected institutions can actually rate us at such a low point in the scale for what is a key metric of digital preparedness is worrying”.
He argues that:

The importance of a top-class virtual and physical infrastructure cannot be understated. PC penetration rates and high quality broadband connectivity are essential facilitators of both economic growth and social inclusion. Equally important is the need to improve the proficiency of ICT skills among citizens and SME owner-managers to drive enhanced productivity.

More pressingly, with Dublin now choaking with traffic, and low density housing spreading out towards Kildare, Meath and beyond, strategic planning of the type already completed in Northern Ireland, if the National Spatial Strategy is to have a chance of slowing the drift of population towards Dublin trend of the last ten years:

Chambers Ireland has proposed that the Government tender for the design, build out and installation of a nationwide fibre optic cabling system to every business and home in the State. This network must be able to deliver a quantum leap in bandwidth capacity and availability to enable technologies such as cheap and effective broadband television, teleconferencing and Voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP). Such a leap offers the possibility of revolutionising all forms of telecommunications and placing Ireland well ahead of our international competition. By tendering for a private operator of this entity, the State would also circumvent any possible threat from an EU veto using state aid rules.

Given our dispersed population and patterns of ribbon development, the current telecom network operators have a difficult business case to justify roll out of ubiquitous broadband availability around the country. We specifically address this issue by suggesting Fibre To The Home (FTTH) to 80 per cent of domestic and commercial premises, with the remaining 20 per cent to be covered by a wireless network addition.

As noted before on Slugger we have a head start over the Republic, having been one of the first regions in Europe to have 100% broadband coverage. Will we be able to take economic advantage? Well probably not, if the current profound lack of interest in anything other than the details of the Belfast Agreement of 1998 continues into the middle distant future.

Mick is founding editor of Slugger. He has written papers on the impacts of the Internet on politics and the wider media and is a regular guest and speaking events across Ireland, the UK and Europe. Twitter: @MickFealty