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97% of Northern Ireland residents have access to superfast broadband1, the highest proportion of any region within the UK. So why are only 60% of Northern Ireland households taking up this service?

Ofcom have published “The first Communications Infrastructure Report” which details lots of interesting facts that no local news outlet seems to be paying much attention to.
Access to the Internet is pretty much a human right these days and you can access the Internet for free at your local library. What student would prepare for an assignment without conducting some form of Internet research? I’d guess that nearly every single office job requires the Internet whether for email or browsing.
The Internet, therefore, is as much a utility as our water supply and is an essential every day service that we need.

So why then has there not been a media frenzy about these figures? Naturally the report does not cater for the need of our tabloid media but it definitely does need reported on.

The BBC reported “Northern Ireland broadband service criticised” which is a misleading headline in my opinion. Yes the report suggests that more could (and should) be done to improve access to broadband, but 97% of us here in NI already have access to superfast broadband. I have it and I’m about to get upgraded to a 30Mbit/s connection. What have you got? 1 in 4 have less than 2Mbit/s which means that you will really struggle to stream video online and most likely your skype call will be pixelated. In my view this is unacceptable and easily rectified with a simple call to your ISP.

 

Percentage receiving less than 2Mbit/s
Each area has been ranked from 1 to 5 on the percentage of broadband connections that have modem sync speeds of less than 2.2Mbit/s.

1= less than 5%
2= 5% – less than 10%
3= 10% – less than 15%
4= 15% – less than 20%
5= 20% or more

Of course there will be those who argue that you simply don’t need superfast broadband. This is shortsighted and fails to recognise the benefits that come with a fast connection to the Internet. Superfast broadband is now more affordable and the consumer is in a strong position to take advantage of this without having to stretch their budget. Ofcom also reveal that on average we download 17 Gigabytes of data every month. That’s equivalent to about 11 or 12 hours viewing of iPlayer per month. As each year passes we consume more and more content online (up sevenfold in five years) thus making superfast broadband all the more important if you want to watch video online.
Hands up if you have an Internet connected TV? I know it’s not just me. If you have a games console, a Blu-Ray player, an Apple TV or have recently bought your TV then you can probably watch YouTube and other online video content from the comfort of your sofa.

Lots of us have laptops, mobile phones and tablet computers and we use them while we are watching television. I would wager that the majority of the time we are using the Internet on those devices either browsing facebook, playing words with friends, updating all of those apps you downloaded from the App store or even sending an email. OK so nobody sends email anymore, but you get the point, we need the Internet just to go about our normal everyday tasks. If you are a typical household with a mummy and daddy and 2.1 teenagers you’re going to need superfast broadband just to keep everyone happy.

The family I’ve just mentioned will all have mobile phones and statistically speaking more than 2 will have a smartphone and in a couple of years (maybe even just one) everyone will have a smartphone. This will not only apply pressure to the home wifi network but will see massive demand for 3G (and soon 4G) services. In other words, we just can’t get enough Internet!

But, we in Northern Ireland are a bit screwed when it comes to mobile Internet.
If you want 3G on the road you better not actually need it outside Belfast and the main roads.

 

 

3G coverage by geographic area

Each area has been ranked from 1 to 5 on the level of mobile coverage.

1= 90% or more
2= 70% – less than 90%
3= 50% – less than 70%
4= 25% – less than 50%
5= less than 25%

So how does this actually affect us? Generally speaking when we are at home we can make the best use of the Internet, whether that be watching a High Definition movie or making a video call to a friend who lives on the other side of the world. However, this report should be highlighted not because of how I can get access to the Internet on a personal level, but for the stark reality that many businesses and those who travel for their work are not able to make use of superfast broadband connections whether in the office or from their car. This impacts the local economy. This means we are not as competitive and this means jobs are on the line. You only need to have a quick look at a recruitment agency to see that IT plays an important role within our local economy. The wider view is of course that the Internet provides access to a global market. We can now sell services overseas with literally the click of a mouse. The Internet provides opportunity and superfast broadband will enable our local businesses to compete on the global stage which ultimately will boost the local economy. Simple. Well not quite, but I hope you understand how crucial it is that we not only have access to superfast broadband but that we also avail of its service.
Feel free to leave a comment on the issue of broadband access and whether you think it really matters to the local economy or not.
Ofcom have published the press release The state of the communications nation and their report The first Communications Infrastructure Report but I’d highly recommend you visit
http://maps.ofcom.org.uk/ and see for yourself what level of access you currently have.
1BDUK defines Superfast Broadband as having a potential headline access speed of at least 24Mbps, with no upper limit.

This was a guest post by Chris Taylor.

  • http://profiles.google.com/conder chris conder

    I think take up is poor, because all those who already had a decent service are the ones who can get the ‘superfast’ and all those who are further from exchanges will still only have the poor service. I think broadband has a bad name because lots of people are on long lines, shoddy lines or have bad wiring in their homes. I think it is madness trying to patch up an obsolete phone network, and I think ofcom are a useless regulator. I think its time to build some decent networks so that everyone can get a fit for purpose connection. I also think that some areas have quite good mobile coverage, but once you move outside those areas they are only fit for phone calls and can’t access the internet with them, so smart phones are useless. If we want to be a digital nation we have to keep up with the rest of the world, and a victorian phone network can’t do it.

    • Mark

      Chris (Conder), you are equating SFBB to “exchanges” which would imply only BT can deliver SFBB.

      In the case of what BT are doing, it’s based on VDSL technology at street cabinet level, which has nothing do with distance from exchanges.

      I also have no idea where you get the idea that there is a “victorian phone network”.

      • http://profiles.google.com/conder chris conder

        I know what its based on Mark, and if you are more than 300metres from a cabinet you ain’t gonna get superfast either. The distance from the cabinet to the exchange doesn’t count, cos that is fibre, but the length of your old phone line is one of the deciding factors of your speed. Either on an exchange using adsl, adsl2+ or on a cabinet, it matters not really, its the length of the old ‘victorian’ copper that is gonna slow you down. Its also throttling and capping as those on faster connections are finding out. Either way, digital we ain’t. And superfast some of us will never get. Only those on short runs, next to exchanges or cabinets.

  • Mark

    This is based on a false premise, and that premise being that the figures quoted above for SFBB availability are accurate.

    97% availability of SFBB? I’m sure Arlene Foster would disagree….why don’t you ask her Eamonn?

  • http://ichristaylor.com/ iChrisTaylor

    I think everyone will agree that we need a better infrastructure, but I still believe that people here are reluctant to upgrade their existing broadband or even to investigate whether they can obtain a better service. Fibre to the cabinet at least gives people the choice (whether that figure is accurate or not – it is widely quoted by both BT and Ofcom) and I know from my own experience that a households broadband experience is greatly enhanced by taking up BT Infinity. 
    Of course there is the other issue about lack of mobile coverage which is arguably more important.