Enforced digital detox turns rural dream into nightmare

Lack of landline or internet connections and ‘apathetic’ Eir ruin move to new Offaly home

Freelance reporter Eoghan MacConnell at his ‘digital-free oasis’ outside Tullamore in Co Offaly

Freelance reporter Eoghan MacConnell at his ‘digital-free oasis’ outside Tullamore in Co Offaly

 

After years of renting, saving and dreaming, my partner and I finally moved into our dream home with our two children on St Patrick’s Day.

We were finally free of the rental trap, our kids could play out in the garden without fear of passing cars and there would be space to grow vegetables and tend to a garden.

The house is a one-off new build. It is located around six kilometres from the centre of Tullamore and about 3km from the house we previously rented on the outskirts of the Co Offaly town. Although close to the town, it is located down a boreen off the main road and is free from both light and noise pollution.

All of this seemed idyllic to me and in my naivety I did not anticipate any major difficulties. This was before I had the misfortune of dealing with Eir. They were contacted prior to the move for a landline and internet connection but on inspection their engineer said a pole was needed so we cancelled the order and made a fresh request. Eir had supplied eFibre to the old house and credit where credit is due, the service was perfect, too good perhaps.

Even though the new house is near our old address we may as well be in a different galaxy. On two occasions Eir couldn’t find the house and they even cited data protection as the reason they couldn’t ask locally for directions (so much for your Eircode Alex White), presumably because God forbid someone might discover we wanted a phoneline.

When their engineer eventually arrived, it was the same man from before with the same message – we need a pole and there must be a pole request. This was infuriating as we had informed Eir of this on countless occasions. When informed that my livelihood was on the line, the engineer was sympathetic and said he would contact his manager, outline the urgency of the case and put in a pole request. Eir say we might now have a line at the end of April.

Modern-day retreat

Eir cannot be held responsible for the location’s mobile phone signal. It is almost non-existent on both major networks. I imagine years from now there will be people seeking out the exact conditions that prevail at my new home. It is a digital-free oasis impervious it would appear, even to radio waves. The enforced digital detox might actually one day become a viable business model, a modern-day retreat, impenetrable to potentially harmful radiation from the modern world outside – if only there was a way of letting people know about it.

After the move the full implications of digital-free living became all too apparent as my income dried up. Even my radio conspired against me in a fiendish way. It permits radio stations to be tuned in but the moment you walk away from the device the signal dies.

As a freelance reporter it is difficult to think of a more challenging environment to operate from. In the past I have had days of frantically driving up and down country roads in search of a mobile signal all the while knowing that there was an irate editor waiting impatiently in some far away newsroom. That is challenging but at least mobility offered the prospect of a solution.

The sheer frustration of dealing with Eir is something entirely different. The irony of trying to force customers to communicate through online chats appears lost on the company. The apathetic call-takers on Eir’s community forum seem incapable of grasping the reality of someone having no mobile phone coverage.

Recently I acquired an internet dongle from Vodafone. The service works intermittently. I am informed that should I get landline broadband I could get a device that would boost the mobile phone signal in the house. At the moment one windowsill offers two bars of 3G phone reception. My phone is in constant need of charging as it is exhausting itself trying to find a signal. It has also developed a worrying habit of falling from the windowsill when the odd call does come through.

I am acutely aware that my problems fall squarely into the first-world category. I know citizens are being massacred in Syria, children are dying of starvation in Yemen and there is a very real homelessness crisis here in Ireland. I know too that many people feel that if you choose to live in the countryside then you should accept the consequences.

Incapable

While I take this on board, I wonder what hope have the people of rural Ireland in starting up any business in this digital age. As for Eir acquiring 300,000 new rural broadband contracts at the behest of the Minister for Communications, frankly I despair. They seem incapable of dealing with the customers they have.

Having been told by Eir that I could now expect to wait a further three weeks for a landline or internet connection, I drove to my old address and in a state of complete exasperation and frustration emailed both the Denis Naughten and the chief executive of Eir. A lot of what I said is outlined above, but there was one more point that I believe is probably most relevant. What will I do if my partner or either of my young children require an ambulance or urgent medical attention? As expected neither the Minister nor the chief executive responded.

In jest, I informed the news editor that he could expect this piece in the post. It was only after the phone call ended I remembered what is happening to our rural post office network.