These days we are all connected. It’s taken for granted in so many areas of life that the mobile phone in our hand, or the tablet and laptop, will provide a means of communication, of work and entertainment.
Internet service providers boast about the speed of their broadband, in dynamic, brightly coloured advertising, and it looks like a future space age in technology is well and truly here.
But is it really? We all know the frustration of ‘your line is breaking up there’ when we try to talk to someone on a mobile phone. Or the ‘I’ll just move to the back/ front/ lean out the window of the house’ if you’re ringing someone in a rural area.
When you’re ringing for a chat it’s annoying, but what if it’s your business located in that rural area? What if the line coming into your premises, never mind the phone or wifi signal, just isn’t good enough to complete what we now regard as basic tasks?
While most urban centres and many rural areas forge ahead, are we leaving some communities behind?
Yes, there are commercial companies and satellite broadband providers. Yes, we have a national broadband plan that is being rolled out to fill the gaps in service where commercial companies have no plans to invest. But there are still communities that are falling into gaps, or are being told they will have to wait so long for the national service to reach them that they feel they will be left behind. That their communities will lose out on enterprise investment, jobs and the ability to avail of a whole new swathe of remote working hubs.
Communities in north and south Kilkenny have brought this problem to the fore.
Piltown, in south Kilkenny, is a community where they took the problem into their own hands. Faced with a very long wait before the national broadband plan infrastructure would serve the town and environs, the voluntary Broadband 4 Our Community (B4OC) group was formed. The not-for-profit group is community-owned and community-driven. Members of the community quite literally got down into the trenches and built its own Fibre-to-the-Premises (FTTP) broadband network, with funding and technical support. 750 homes and businesses in a 3.4 square kilometre area now have, or will soon have, access to at least 150MB speeds and a future-proofed high-speed broadband service they can afford.
Piltown is now seen as a pioneer of rural broadband and won the overall award at the .IE Digital Town Awards 2022.
Another winner in the .IE Digital Town Awards was Urlingford. However, the efforts of that community that won praise were steps to try and increase access to technology. The town is still fighting for modern, top speed broadband.
The problem in Urlingford is that the cables serving the town are made of copper and were installed in the 1980s. And the town is currently falling between the national broadband plan and private companies, neither of which have plans to upgrade the town.
A top broadband service travels via fibreoptic cables. This is what has been installed in Piltown. Urlingford is still using copper wires - and this is now a real threat to the future development of the town, and major plans to open a remote working hub in the town centre.
Recently, one local councillor said the community there was ‘absolutely agawk that they don’t have high speed broadband’.
Practically, it means a business on Main Street in Urlingford can’t always accept card payments, something we should be taking for granted. How can a heavily promoted government remote working plan actually work if the basic services are unreliable?
It took a global pandemic to force us to live apart and work from home. As has been pointed out before, it was a transition that could have taken years, but instead it happened overnight. We have the technology, now we just need to catch up with the infrastructure or rural communities are going to be left behind.
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