‘If the wind blows, the signal goes’: the reality of rural broadband
For many businesses outside Dublin the lack of adequate broadband services is of growing concern
The site of the Apple data centre in Athenry. Gerry Keane’s can see the site from his doorstep but can’t access high speed broadband.
When Gerry Keane stands at his front door in Moyveela, four miles from Athenry, he can see the site Apple has long fought to get planning permission on for its data centre. The technology that would have been required to service that site, however, hasn’t darkened his doorstep. His business, Galway Bay Executive Travel, which offers chauffeur services has long suffered at the hands of inadequate broadband.
“If you were trying to send off an email and an itinerary with photographs attached, you’d have to take off the photographs to send it because it wouldn’t have gone otherwise,” he said.
The poor broadband forced him to pay a provider for a receiver that would make his service slightly better.
About 500m from Keane’s house, three houses have high-speed broadband supplied by Eir. But, he says, they wouldn’t extend the line another 150 yards when they were installing it to include a further 17 homes, including his.
While Mr Keane’s broadband has improved slightly after he installed the receiver, Paula Carney-Hoffler in Tipperary has had the opposite experience.
“If the wind blows, the signal goes completely,” she said. Working from home as a credit risk and compliance manager for a Dublin-based solicitor firm, she says there’s a significant discrepancy in the level of broadband services in different pockets of the State.
Often she finds the level of broadband that she pays for doesn’t work. That means she has to go to a hotel or use mobile data. But with that comes significant costs. “Once you live outside a city, you’re forgotten about. They [the Government] don’t realise how many remote workers there are out there.”
Eir’s decision to pull out from the tender process for the National Broadband Plan has caused her considerable concern. “Am I going to have to leave my home where I live? That’s what it looks like if this happens.”
As for the Government’s push to get the idea of remote working or living outside of Dublin to take off, she suggests that reality is getting further away.
John Hurley, the chief executive of Kilkenny Chamber, agrees. Large businesses like VHI and State Street, which are significant employers in Kilkenny, have a good broadband supply but their desire to facilitate employees to work from home may well have been dealt a blow by Eir’s move, he suggested.
“We used to have a nice steady conference business before the advent of broadband: now we have nil conferences a year,” he said. “Being off the beaten track, we’re at a huge disadvantage and we are one of the biggest employers in Connemara. We have 70 staff.”
Mr Counihan, the hotel’s managing director, said they will be putting pressure on politicians to tackle the issue but also noted “there aren’t very many votes out here”. “It’s not good for our business,” he concluded.
Fellow hotelier and owner of Killeen House Hotel, Michael Rosney, suggested the days of broadband being a novelty for tourists are long gone. The reality of poor infrastructure, he warned, could threaten Ireland’s competitiveness as a tourist destination.
Then there are farmers, for whom a high standard of internet access has become particularly important, considering that returns for the EU basic payment scheme, due in by May, can only be filed online this year.
“Given the critical importance of the basic payment and other schemes to farm incomes, access to broadband is vital for farmers,” an Irish Farmers Association spokeswoman said.
Prof Edmond Harty, the chief executive of farming equipment manufacturer Dairymaster and a former winner of the EY Entrepreneur of the Year award, noted that his business, based in Causeway, Co Kerry, has had to get in its own connection because of the poor local broadband infrastructure.
“The internet is a way of life for every business. As a result, the national broadband plan is very important,” he said.
Prof Harty suggested that younger farmers are learning their business by using YouTube and without proper broadband infrastructure, “the question is where they’ll be left”, he says.
Seamus Boland, the chief executive of Irish Rural Link, said the confidence of business in rural Ireland is going to get a knock. “This sends a message to potential start-ups and existing business in rural areas that the development of our business is not going to happen in this location,” he said. “ ‘We’re going to have to think urban, we’re going to have to think Dublin.’ That’s what they’re going to say.”