The future of rural Ireland is connected

We all live on a small island, on the edge of Europe that over the last two centuries, has moved from a largely rural-based farming economy, to an urban-based society.

This evolution has highlighted an urban-rural divide which has, and continues to have a profound impact on community life the length and breadth of the country.

There is a need to recognise the value of the rural economy and marketplace in its own right. It is too significant a proportion of the population to leave behind. Supporting and investing in rural Ireland will bring benefits to all of Ireland. Vodafone’s vision is for a situation where the people of rural Ireland have an opportunity to learn, work, live and prosper aspart of a sustainable and fair society.

While rural Ireland offers a high standard of living, a sense of community, a strong identity and pride of place for those who live there, there are real concerns over how rural Ireland has become disconnected from the rest of the country.

So what does the future of the broadband access in rural Ireland look like?

According to Vodafone, the future is connected. Vodafone is committed to delivering a ‘Gigabit Society’ in Ireland and to playing a central role in driving that agenda – with the explicit goal of access for everyone to 1 gigabit broadband speed. Equality of connectivity will change how everyone in Ireland lives, works and plays.

The Gigabit Society

This Gigabit Society has the ability to unlock the enormous potential in rural Ireland. The communities that have traditionally been ravaged by economic recession, emigration and isolation would be able to use the Internet to facilitate a new way of doing business, of organising community and of socialising.

We can only be made stronger by a rising tide of interconnectivity. If you look at the current housing crises which effects Dublin most of all, you can see that it is a result of the need to live and work near the capital. There are then the knock-on effects of a high demand for housing and pressure on public services such as hospitals and schools.

Facilitating high speed broadband in rural areas would reduce the need for people to move to larger rural areas, thus allowing the communities to grow organically and to sustain that growth into the future. It could fundamentally shift the social and economic landscape in the least densely populated areas of Ireland and start a new age of connectivity and prosperity.

Vodafone’s The Gigabit Society has the potential to allow rural Ireland to fully realise its potential in terms of economic development. The very nature of rural Ireland’s disconnectedness over centuries has meant rural communities have had to be highly adaptive, agile and innovative. Every farmer is an entrepreneur and every household in some way a business platform. The can-do attitude in rural Ireland can be harnessed to transform the economic and social possibilities and make Ireland a more equitable place to live and do business.

“Our vision is that every consumer, company and community in Ireland will be an equal member of the gigabit society with access to high quality services at high speeds – creating possibilities for everything from equality of access to lifelong learning, to opening up new markets to Irish companies through to harnessing improved connectivity for advanced healthcare services.”

Anne O’Leary, CEO Vodafone Ireland

Connected Futures

There tends to be a lot of noise regarding rural Ireland and national and local strategies for connectedness. Reporting on rural Ireland can unfairly focus on problems and on the past. Vodafone, however, decided to focus on the future, on the potential within these communities and on their desires when it comes to the digital future. They commissioned a body of research with Amarách Research – ‘Connected Futures’ that engaged with rural communities, finding out about their dreams and aspirations for the future as well as their feed backon what are the areas of urgency and potential pitfalls in a future digital strategy.

“They said give us better access to broadband and we can then build stronger communities, create jobs, expand and develop businesses, start up new business, using the technology that’s already available in some parts of Ireland but isn’t available in all parts of Ireland and that’s the real opportunity.

Gerard O'Neill, Chairman of Amárach Research

Vodafone’s ‘Connected Futures’ research recognises that any debate about a connected future for rural Ireland must involve the local community in the conversation.

“The key finding for me coming out of the study is one of optimism. What I find is people want to remove the barriers to participating in a digital economy, a digital society, but they also want to realise all the opportunities that are there. So if you can give them faster broadband for example they can also begin to benefit in things like jobs of rural areas,perhaps even allowing people to study and work from home who couldn’t otherwise do so.”

There are two elements to achieving a gigabit society. One is ensuring that there is high-quality, ubiquitous connectivity for everyone in Ireland regardless of where they live. But it also goes beyond the economy. Bringing this connectivity to all of Ireland will change the nature of society. It will change businesses and industries, but also in terms of work, education,healthcare it will really effect how people work, live and play.”

Ray Collins, Director of Strategy & Corporate Affairs, Vodafone Ireland

The Ludgate Hub

Leading the way as a demonstration of what is possible if a rural community is given access to high speed broadband is the Ludgate Hub in Skibbereen, Co. Cork. It is one thing to wax lyrical about a connected future, it’s quite another to put it into practice and witness the real benefits it brings to the local community.

The Ludgate Hub in the heart of Skibbereen offers space for an initial 75+ digital workers in the start-up phase and as many different businesses in a specially revamped building. The Hub was created as a result of the shared vision of a number of business people with strong local connections and enabled by the availability of gigabit broadband from SIRO.

“This puts Skibbereen ahead of many other towns in Ireland and that is very unusual for a town like Skibbereen in South West Cork”, says John Field. “Our vision is not just to catch up on other towns, but to move ahead of them. The connectivity and the Digital Hub offer the town something tangible and very significant in that respect.”

E-street opening up the rural main street to the world

The advent of gigabit broadband is enabling the creation of a virtual shopping mall in Skibbereen, Ireland’s most southerly town. An initial group of ten retailers are being assisted in the process of becoming fully fledged e-tailers as part of an initiative of the Ludgate Hub.

E-street, as the new mall has been dubbed, will enable retailers in the town to reach out to customers across the South West Corkregion and further afield.

For the most part, the retailers involved already have anonline presence but the move to E-street will introduce them to online trading. “Some of them already have websites but they are not e-commerce enabled”, explains E-street manager Gillean Guy. “We are bringing the businesses along each step on the journey to becoming fully e-commerce enabled. We are also working with a firm to provide a joint shipping service for all of the retailers. The firm will drop off and pick up from a central depot a few times a week.”

The next phase will see service businesses being included in the initiative. “We have concentrated on businesses which are selling products in the first phase. In the second wave we will start to look at services like businesses selling tickets for cruises and other tourism offerings.”

Connectivity... Changing farmers lives for the better

Moocallis a revolutionary gadget which monitors the movements of a pregnant cow and predicts to an accuracy of one hour when it is going to calf. Moocall proved an instant hit with farmers at home and abroad and more than 10,000 units have been sold across 27 countries in less than 18 months.

Moocall co-founder Niall Austin came up with the idea forthe product back in 2010 when he lost a heifer and her calf because he wasn’t aware that the cow had gone into labour. Having realised this was a common problem, Niall researched to see if a solution could be found and Moocall was born. To date, approximately 120000 calves have been born safely with their owners on site ready to help if needed thanks to Moocall calving sensors.

As part National Digital Week 2016, Vodafone Ireland will be hosting a panel discussion on Saturday 12th November at 12.15pm at the West Cork Hotel which will focus on ‘Creating Ireland’s Gigabit Society’ The discussion will be hosted by Pat Kenny. The discussion will focus on the importance of investing in and empowering local communities around the country,exploring the idea of ‘connectivity’ and the benefits it can bring from a personal and business perspective.

The panel for the Vodafone discussion is:
Pat Kenny – Broadcaster
Inma Martinez – a pioneer in the European mobile and data analytics Industries
Professor Cathal O’Donoghue – Teagasc
David Murphy – RTE
John Field – The Ludgate Hub
Ray Collins – Vodafone Ireland

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