Sunday 4 December 2016

'We're being left way behind': the struggle to find a signal in worst broadband blackspot

Published 19/11/2016 | 02:30

Hayley Doherty, a student in NUI Galway Photo: Willie Farrell
Hayley Doherty, a student in NUI Galway Photo: Willie Farrell

'It was a roaring success." The proprietor of Legan's only shop is telling the story of a 'Strictly Come Dancing' gala night recently held in the Longford village's local GAA hall.

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"But the brochure for it almost didn't happen," Gerry Whyte said. "It took all night to send PDFs of the ads to the printer. That brochure was a big part of what the made the evening viable."

Philip Dawson and Shawbrook School of Dance's Anica Louw Photo: Willie Farrell
Philip Dawson and Shawbrook School of Dance's Anica Louw Photo: Willie Farrell

Mr Whyte is one of the long-suffering residents of Legan, named this week as the worst place in Ireland for broadband coverage.

Down the road, Avril Bridget Moran faces the same problem every day. As the sales administrator of her father's car dealership, she never knows whether a customer's deposit will go through smoothly when a sale is closed because the terminal can't get a signal.

"It's embarrassing both for me and the customer," she said. "He comes in and puts in his credit card but it could take half-an-hour to process. I often have to explain that it's not his card being rejected."

Avril's father, Billy Moran, has been running the business since 2000 but said a lack of any reasonable broadband or mobile service was making life unnecessarily difficult.

Billy Moran with his son James and daughter Avril Bridget Photo: Willie Farrell
Billy Moran with his son James and daughter Avril Bridget Photo: Willie Farrell

"We're being left way behind," he said. "We can't advertise and we can't even accept payments. We sometimes have to take a customer's card number and wait for the machine to connect later on. It's prehistoric."

According to Switcher.ie's national broadband survey this week, Legan has the slowest average internet speed in Ireland at 1.9Mbs.

That's not enough for more than one person in a house to browse basic websites or send emails. And because it's an average speed, many in the village get much worse than 1.9Mbs.

It has already led to some in the village leaving their homes.

Gerry Whyte of Whyte's Checkout, Legan, Co Longford Photo: Willie Farrell
Gerry Whyte of Whyte's Checkout, Legan, Co Longford Photo: Willie Farrell

"Three or four families in the nearby housing development just decided to move on, probably because of the broadband," Mr Whyte said.

It's not just jobs and work that get curtailed. As a woman in her early 20s, Avril Bridget Moran finds herself restricted to one day a week for seeing and talking to friends on social media.

"Every Saturday I drive into Athlone and just sit there on the phone answering all my messages," she said. "Friends keep asking me why I didn't answer their Facebook messenger or Instagram messages but I just can't around here."

Hayley Doherty, a 19-year-old NUI Galway arts student who works part time in Legan's local grocery shop, has the same problem.

"My friends can't Skype me when I'm here," she said. "I'm cut off."

Ms Doherty, who has also started her own fashion blog at HaylsKouture.ie, said she cannot see a future working from Legan.

Some of the town's residents are determined to make things work despite the poor communications infrastructure.

Shawbrook School Of Dance is one of the country's top ballet and contemporary studios for young dancers.

Owner and head teacher Anica Louw is known globally for the facility, which she has grown over 30 years.

However, she now sometimes has to climb a tree in her garden to hunt for a mobile signal so that communicatation with potential students can be established.

"People come from all over the globe here," said Ms Louw, who is originally from South Africa.

"But to do marketing and modern business now, you have to do it online. I can't tell you what a struggle it sometimes is to get things done."

Ms Louw's husband and son, Philip and Kristo Dawson, run a forestry and recreational accommodation on the 70-acre property.

Kristo fumes: "Sometimes it feels like the Government wants us to fail down here.

"Small businesses around here can't ever compete with small businesses in Kildare or Athlone or Dublin."

Back in Legan's main street pub, Mitchell's, a man at the bar is telling the room that he would like to meet someone.

"I'm pure sick of living on my own," he tells me and two other companions.

He has placed an ad in the local paper seeking companionship but hasn't received any replies.

He could try Tinder, I said. "Tender? How does that work?" You download the app for your phone, I said.

"Ah," he said shaking his head. "Coverage."

Irish Independent

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