Farm Ireland

Thursday 22 March 2018

Darragh McCullough - Why I'm grateful my monthly internet bill was only €500


What next for rural broadband?
What next for rural broadband?
Darragh McCullough

Darragh McCullough

So we've morphed from a Celtic Tiger into a Celtic Phoenix. That's the best way the economists are able to label the fact that we've more disposable income per household than at the height of the boom, and that there's as many people back in employment now as there ever was.

Indeed, I'm starting to get calls from employers that have more than a passing resemblance to ones I fielded a decade ago. Staff 'can't be got' and we should open the floodgates to China, Thailand and beyond.

At home here I've still got a crew of Romanian workers who are now into top gear in the daffodil picking season with up to 200,000 stems being individually hand-picked per day. It's what some might term 'hardy' work bent over for hours picking flowers in all weathers in January.

I'm lucky to have a good crew and it leaves me inclined to believe that there are plenty of people more than willing to work hard for the minimum wage still within the borders of the EU.

A weekly cheque for €400 might not seem like a lot of money for Irish people, but I'm told that it is still the equivalent of a month's salary for my crew if they were back home in Romania.

But there are all kinds of glaring disparities in our 'phoenix' economy.

If I don't hit the road by 6.30am, my journey time into the city centre doubles with the volume of traffic queuing along the M1 and every other major road artery heading into the capital.

But out in the country rural towns and villages are as quiet as ever. On my days out filming for Ear to the Ground I see plenty of boarded-up shops, closed pubs and abandoned commercial sites.

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Even though I'm only 40km north of O'Connell Street in Dublin city centre, I also experience firsthand some of the handicaps that are keeping the rural economy on the hind teat.

The debacle that it is the rollout of the national broadband network is a case in point.

Earlier this month I got an email from my internet provider to inform me that we had breached the 60Gb limit on the dongle in the house by 20Gb and a surcharge of €933 would be applied on top of my regular monthly bill of €35.

I was gobsmacked. Cue some pretty curt exchanges with the two ladies in my life - my wife and her 18-year-old Kiwi niece that has moved in with us for a couple of months.

This wasn't the first time that I had been hit with a data surcharge. Because some lazy engineer overlooked the cul-de-sac that I live on, the broadband speed available through the landline is actually lower than that available through the dongle.

So we are totally reliant on dongles for internet coverage.

For the last number of years I have continuously cranked up the monthly allowance and, of course, consequent payment to cover the increasing amount of daily living that has drifted online.

I thought we had learned all the pitfalls: that you can opt for lower quality streaming on Netflix that doesn't use as much data; that every hour of streaming video is about 1G of data; that downloading programmes is better done on somebody else's Wi-Fi with unlimited data!

But we never had to factor in a teenager into the equation, and data for today's teenager is what TV was for my generation - just a given, and preferably in copious quantities.

There is no warning from the phone company.

Unlike the text that will be sent to your phone if you are going over your monthly limit, mobile phone companies refuse to send any automated message regarding data usage on a dongle to the owner's phone... refuse until they realise that you've used up the equivalent of two year's dongle fees in a single month.

I queried this with the ComReg, and a pleasant man in their call centre informed me that this was standard practice for mobile phone operators.

Needless to say I was livid. Annoyed that our household has let it happen.

But more annoyed that a company that I pay about €3,000 a year to in phone and internet charges would have the gall to saddle me with such punitive charges.

After pleading my case I was told that the best they could do was halve the surcharge.

I didn't know whether to feel grateful or annoyed. If we had gone out 12 months ago and bought a ready-to-go SIM card with unlimited data for €20 a month, we would never have had this problem.

Would that have been gaming the system?

If we lived in a town or city we would have had hi-speed internet at an affordable price coming out of a socket in the wall for years.

Instead, I'm supposed to feel grateful that I 'only' paid €500 for my December internet service.

All because we live in the country and play by the rules. And then the politicians wonder why there's still a two-speed economy.

Indo Farming

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