Ofcom released their 2010 Communications Market Report for Northern Ireland back in August. On Thursday, they followed up the report with a panel discussion that looked at the some of the issues raised in the report.
One of the people attending the event was Sinn Féin’s Phil Flanagan, a district councillor in Fermanagh. He asked a brace of questions that articulated the rural digital divide as clearly as I’ve ever heard it described. I caught up with Phil afterwards and he explained some (though not all!) of the issues he’d earlier raised.
Rural homes tend to be a long way from their telephone exchange, which results in low broadband speeds. Lying far away from transmitters, often with trees or hills in the way, television reception can be poor, and some areas have weak FM radio reception … and certainly no DAB.
Mobile reception tends to be patchy in areas of low population density, with a greater distance between mobile masts, and no incentive for mobile operators to upgrade to offer 3G. In border areas, there’s the additional hassle and cost of roaming as mobile handsets seek out the strongest signal no matter where it comes from.
It’s the worst of all worlds: the infrastructure is light, yet the isolation demands good communication, entertainment in the home, ways of ordering and trading online.
One of the other learning points came from panellist Neil Gibson (Oxford Economics) who gave a thorough layman’s explanation of the curious recession we are living through and pointed to the likely problems we’ll face as the economy recovers. With low interest rates, many people are still spending. Yet interest rates will rise, and at the same time jobs will be cut and salaries/overtime reduced.
But Neil’s take home observation was that sales of ties and lunchboxes goes up during a recession! Discuss ...