The Donegal North East independent candidate says the delivery of the National Broadband Scheme has been called into question, as many areas are currently receiving insufficient service, slower broadband speeds and service outages in many areas currently serviced by the scheme as mobile broadband technology is being offered in place of fixed-line broadband service.
There are a number of different methods which can be used to deliver broadband to homes and businesses, including fixed line, mobile, wireless and satellite broadband, and there are downsides to all alternatives.
Stewart claims that rural Ireland is being offered the bare minimum level of service in comparison with what is offered in cities and towns across the country, including comparisons between towns and villages in Donegal, and the service provided is not ‘broadband’ at all.
“Currently mobile, wireless and satellite broadband are offered as an alternative to fixed line services; however the provision is not up to the task,” he said today.
“As the population density is much lower in rural Ireland, distances from broadband masts vary and those who should be serviced by these masts are losing out and receiving substandard broadband. Indeed the term broadband itself should not be applied in many of these areas.
“The service provisions in many cases are no better than dial-up speeds experienced by using the telephone line, leading to frustration from many rural customers. There are also a number of communities who have been left out of the National Broadband Scheme, who cannot get any decent form of broadband.”
Stewart claims most communities are receiving less than the minimum requirement set down by government upon the implementation of the scheme.
The OECD determines that the minimum service level is 256kbps, no better than dial-up, however the government have guaranteed that the current minimum delivery is 1.6Mbps.
However, depending on your proximity to the masts, your service degrades with distance. Wireless is not much better, says the Inishowen man.
He went on: “For those who have line of sight, the service is above average but still not comparable with fixed line broadband. There are very slow periods during periods of high usage, due to high contention rates. This is where large numbers of people share the same connection.
“If you do not have line of sight, you cannot get this type of broadband. There are also high installation costs attached to wireless and satellite broadband services, as well as high monthly charges. Also, if the local exchange is enabled by eircom, if you are too far from the exchange, you cannot receive the fixed line service. There are a number of large gaps, and these gaps need filled.”
He added: “The erection of masts which mainly support voice service, with data add-ons are being rolled out, and have been mainly unwelcome in many communities, with a number of these being refused planning permission. Essentially, all the government are doing are subsidising mobile phone companies to erect masts in rural areas.”
“We are being asked to make do with the minimum requirement, which in many people’s eyes would not even be classed as ‘broadband’ as towns and cities get the latest technology, and should such service levels be provided in towns and cities there would be uproar.
“It’s another case of the neglect of rural Ireland. I was recently contacted by a group in Culdaff, who have begun a petition at www.broadbandforculdaff.com to get fixed line services to this area, however the area is not ‘economically viable’ to receive fixed line services, according to eircom.
“This area is also excluded from the National Broadband Scheme as the government believes that NWE in Derry provide broadband services here, however there is no line of sight to allow connection.”
“I am aware that a final phase is being rolled out in the coming weeks to provide the bare minimum to communities outside the National Broadband Scheme, however I would not hold out much hope of an improved service to that currently offered under the National Broadband Scheme.
“Fixed line services are the only solution to give a level playing field with urban areas, and unless a way can be found to improve the performance of rural broadband, we will lose competitive advantage economically, and be left behind as the digital divide widens between rural and urban Ireland.”