Farm Ireland
Independent.ie

Wednesday 18 January 2017

'I've to drive five miles to get access to a broadband connection'

With an estimated 30pc of households still without a reliable internet connection, Majella O'Sullivan talks to the winners and losers in the rural broadband lottery

Published 03/02/2016 | 02:30

John O’Connor pictured with his wife Rachel and their four boys Owen, Rory, Cathal, Odhran and family pet Rex: John, who farms in Currans, Co Kerry, says broadband access has become an essential tool in his farming life
John O’Connor pictured with his wife Rachel and their four boys Owen, Rory, Cathal, Odhran and family pet Rex: John, who farms in Currans, Co Kerry, says broadband access has become an essential tool in his farming life
Sean Butler, Secretary of the Tipperary Branch of the ICMSA

The day when he can access a decent broadband service can't come soon enough for Tipperary suckler farmer, Sean Butler

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Apart from running his 70-acre hill farm at Dolla, Silvermines, where he has 26 suckler cows, Sean (46) also runs a company, Sean Butler Irrigation Ltd, that installs and repairs sprinkler systems on sports grounds, including golf courses, all over the country and even as far away as Ghana, Africa.

He says he can receive faster, more reliable broadband in Africa than he can at home in Tipperary.

To access broadband, Sean (below) has to drive to the nearest town, Nenagh, about 8km away.

He says: "We don't have any broadband at all, whatsoever. We used to have dial up but it's so slow we don't even use it.

"We've tried all the providers but they tell us, 'Sorry, you're in a non serviceable area'.

"Since Christmas I've been looking into it again and Three Mobile has told us they will be able to service our area.

"They say they'll give me a 14-day trial but I haven't actually gone as far as signing up for anything yet."

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Like others in so-call 'unserviceable areas', Sean is watching eagerly developments by the Department of Communications, Energy and Natural Resources.

"Even if they told us and could give us a date. They say everywhere will have broadband before a certain date in 2020. But if they could say, 'your area will be done by 2017 or 2018' that would be something.

"To be honest, I can't say I'm very eager about it because they can't and won't give us an exact date.

"If they could it would be great but at the moment they just keep on telling us it's in the pipeline," he adds.

Rural broadband access is a lottery and one of the 'winners' is dairy farmer John O'Connor who cannot imagine a life without the internet, which he says has become a necessity in his daily life.

The busy father of four young boys, who farms in the Currans in Co Kerry, says both he and his wife Rachel use it for so many aspects of their everyday life; from doing the weekly grocery shop to taxing his tractor to internet banking, booking the children's school bus tickets and registering calf births.

Lucky

However, he realises he's one of the lucky ones to have a reasonably reliable service.

Broadband at the O'Connor household is provided by Eir through the landline.

Other farmers in the area aren't as lucky.

"One neighbour has no service at all and he's only living down the road from me," says John, who's also an active member of the ICMSA.

"There are people who have absolutely no access to broadband and I could hardly imagine our life now without it.

"If it's even for researching something I might be thinking about purchasing like roofing for a shed, you can have all the research done online before you go buying."

For form filing, he thinks having internet access is vital.

"The Department of Agriculture has improved its website no end.

"You can register calves, record drug usage and you can't make a mistake because it won't allow you to proceed if you do.

"But if you don't have a good connection you get timed out and that's very frustrating.

"Not all farmers are computer savvy but when you get used to it, it's a great time-saving device.

"But we're lucky. I've neighbours down the road who can't get broadband," he adds.

For web developer Eileen Murray, who lives in the other side of the county outside the village of Waterville in South Kerry, getting adequate broadband coverage is a constant challenge.

Eileen moved her business, Futura Media, from Dublin to Kerry a few years ago and has changed the way she does business, opting for more Skype calling than meeting her clients face to face.

"We went with a local satellite provider because Eircom just wasn't up to scratch but there are still constant problems. I don't need 350Mbps of broadband, I just need a steady 10," she says.

"I also have a mobile Vodafone and a Three modem, so if one lets me down, the other one will work but it means I'm paying three separate bills in the month."

Eileen says she's constantly lobbying local politicians but as far as she can see, the Department of Communications, Energy and Natural Resources is constantly pushing the date out further.

In Co Mayo, Kilmovee Community Housing Ltd has had to fund satellite broadband, which is costing up to the three times as much as other providers.

The organisation runs the local community centre as well as managing social housing in the area.

Rupert Davis is a director on the voluntary board. He says broadband provision is a "disaster" and they have been left with no choice other than forking out for expensive satellite broadband.

The nearest town is Ballaghadereen in Co Roscommon, some 15km away.

"It's a 21st century need and one that areas like ours are dying to get hold of," he says.

"But where our community centre is located seems to be a black spot as far as broadband is concerned.

"The satellite broadband has been fantastic, it's just the sheer cost of it and that money could be better spent within the community.

"We're on 'the list' for assessment for rural broadband but I think Eir is working through that alphabetically.

The last I heard, six or seven months ago, was that we would be assessed in late 2016 but that doesn't even guarantee we'll get broadband," Mr Davis added.

The Government's national broadband plan, announced in 2014, now promises all premises will have access to broadband of at least 30Mpbs by 2020.

This is the fourth initiative launched since 2004, as successive Governments grapple to overcome the challenge of broadband access and boost public access for all, recognised as one of the best ways of overcoming peripheral locations.

Faster

Currently, only 35pc of premises have broadband speeds of 10Mbps or more, and only 69pc of households have broadband that is faster than 4Mbps.

An estimated 30pc of the population live in an area not covered by commercial broadband and only 17pc of these live within 1km of a village.

Eamonn Wallace of Ireland Offline, an internet lobby group, says the problem is more pronounced along the western seaboard with parts of Galway, Mayo, Clare and Cork virtual black spots as far as broadband is concerned.

He says: "The thing that concerns us is the even spread of broadband throughout the country.

"It's a political problem. The Government is telling us it's going to address that by 2020 but does that mean it's going to happen?"

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