Farm Ireland

Sunday 18 March 2018

Darragh McCullough: Rural Ireland needs broadband NOW - not in five or 10 years' time


Broadband is needed in rural communities
Broadband is needed in rural communities
The Moran family hosted the second leg of last week's IGA summer dairy tour sponsored by AIB on their farm at Skeaghvasteen, Gowran, Co Kilkenny
Darragh McCullough

Darragh McCullough

I have always maintained that living a mere 40km from O'Connell Street has been a massive benefit.

I'm convinced that I would never have been able to get the start I did in media were it not for my ability to jump in a jeep and be in a studio or editorial meeting in Dublin city centre within 40 minutes.

The proximity to the capital always ensured rapid access to key national infrastructure, be it motorways, trains, buses, airports, natural gas networks, etc. In fact many of them go straight through the farm.

So when I learned that high-speed fibre-optic cable was being laid along the road outside my front gate, I just assumed that it would only be a matter of time before I'd get my slice of the terabyte highway.

That was nearly a decade ago. In the meantime we've been making do with the same dongles that rural households all over Ireland depend on.

They're a stop-gap measure, with signal coming and going depending on the time of day, day of the week, or time of the year.

And while they have a relatively cheap monthly rate for a fixed amount of data, once you go over that limit you are screwed for every single megabyte.

I tried to side-step this by signing up for more dongles, which then creates its own pantomime of having to change dongles every week and various post-its and calendar notes to flag which one is next on the rota.

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Every so often, halfway through the latest episode of House of Cards, there's a panic because we've forgotten a change-over.

It's like being in the car miles from home when you realise that you forgot to turn off the immersion.

Moves by the likes of Netflix to higher-definition streaming drove the gigabyte usage bananas, but at least it still plays out, unlike RTE Player, which makes you feel like you are lost in the Amazon as you wait for the screen to move for another 1.5 seconds.

It's hard to fathom, but the alternative of using a plain old landline is even worse, with download speeds akin to somewhere in the Arctic.

So when I saw the Eir van parked outside the farm gate a few weeks ago, my heart skipped a beat. I made a bee-line to find out more from the hard-hatted technician who was just about to hoist himself up another telephone pole.

"Yep, we're doing every house in the area now," he said. Delighted, I asked when he'd be getting around to wiring up the cul-de-sac that we live on. He studied the map on his iPad. "Em, I don't see that road on this. The engineer mustn't have gone down there."

I groaned. In fairness to the fella he gave me the number for the engineer. I phoned and texted, but without as much as the courtesy of a text back.

Desperate not to let this chance to finally get on the internet highway pass by, I contacted another local councillor, who assured me that a parliamentary question would be tabled on the particular case of the four houses along my cul-de-sac.

Three weeks later I got a letter that informed me that yes, I would be receiving broadband access, except it was impossible to be precise about when exactly it would happen.

Meanwhile the Eir vans have gradually disappeared, and with them any hope that we are going to be linked into the much trumpeted 'national fibre roll-out' any time soon.

This is about much more than just being able to watch our favourite programmes on Netflix. I happened to spend a bit of time in Kiltimagh in Mayo recently where I met young couples who have been able to return to the west from good jobs in the IFSC in Dublin.

They could make the move because of one thing: the availability of high-speed broadband in the town. The result has been the reinvigoration of the town in terms of people, property, and local business.

In the same way that we have all come to expect water, electricity and working roads as a given no matter what region we choose to live in, access to broadband is an essential for communities to be able to hang on to the economic bandwagon that is getting into top gear in our big towns and cities.

It's not good enough to tell us that it's coming and to wait in line. Broadband access could be the making or breaking of rural communities, so we need it now, not in five or 10 years' time.

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