Thankfully there has been quite a lot of discussion lately about the statistics being put about with regard to Broadband penetration in Ireland. The bottom line is that while the government might claim that we have over 90% broadband penetration, the facts are a little different. In some parts of the country less than 50% of the population have access to broadband. When compared with 30 countries reviewed by the OECD we come 22nd in terms of broadband penetration. Furthermore those of us who have broadband are paying more than most and our broadband is slower than that available in every other country except Mexico and Turkey. While all this may be an international embarrassment for the Celtic Tiger which has lauded its digital economy, in real terms why should the average business care about the levels, costs and quality of broadband throughout the country? Why should a company that is not doing business online concern itself with the broadband agenda?

Here are my top five reasons why the broadband debate should matter to all Irish businesses:

1/ Better broadband provides every business with opportunities to realise lower communications costs. The costs of communicating with both customers and other businesses are dramatically reduced when a business chooses to digitise those communications. Digitised voice  communications (VOIP) and data transfer bring significant savings to business. Offsite data backup, make easier and more efficient by higher quality broadband also provides greater protection for a business’s information assets.

2/ Broadband not only reduces communications costs but allows us to do more as part of that communications. There are greater opportunities to develop applications, in particular business-to-business applications, that can automate processes and help bring efficiencies into internal business processes.

3/ With greater access to higher quality broadband consumers are spending longer online and are doing more online. This results in greater consumer competence and willingness to research and purchase goods and services online. This is good news for all businesses, both small and large, since the target market immediately grows from local to potentially international for the business that embraces the online consumer.

4/ An internet-savvy population results in a more highly-skilled workforce. The current generation of school-leavers and college-graduates are more computer literate and more aware of the potential of digital technologies for communicating and engaging consumers than any preceding generation. Businesses that can tap into the “natural digital abilities” of the younger workforce will discover new ways to differentiate themselves from competitors.

5/ And finally, with more consumers and businesses interacting online we will see growth and maturity in our digital economy – an important factor in the continued buoyancy of our economy in spite of growing uncertainty worldwide. While not all of us are involved in digital businesses per se; the digital sector, indigenous and multi-national, has had a significant impact on overall national prosperity. Protecting this sector and our international reputation as a digital economy continues to be important for all of us.

SO, if you haven’t already engaged in the debate on the state of broadband in Ireland now is the time.