‘Even farmers need the internet’

Broadband black spots: three perspectives

‘It’s a huge disadvantage’: Farmer John Bateman from Meanus, Co Limerick can’t get broadband. Photograph:  Brian Gavin Press 22

‘It’s a huge disadvantage’: Farmer John Bateman from Meanus, Co Limerick can’t get broadband. Photograph: Brian Gavin Press 22

 

John Bateman, Meanus, Co Limerick

John Bateman is a beef and dairy farmer from Meanus, Co Limerick. He farms 60 hectares a 20-minute drive from the University of Limerick, one of the most tech-savvy institutions in Ireland, but it might as well be two hours, he says.

From his bedroom window he can see the cement-factory chimneys in Limerick city. “We’re not in the middle of nowhere,” he says. Bateman has no internet service – and it is not from want of trying. He has made numerous attempts to find a broadband provider, but they have all told him that his antiquated telephone line makes it impossible.

Bateman says even farmers today cannot survive without the internet. “It’s a huge disadvantage. Being in farming is being in business. As farmers we are a huge part of business in the country.”

He needs the internet to look up his milk accounts. He also needs it to register calves and to find out what is happening with direct payments. “Everything is being encouraged to go online. There are schemes now where you have to apply online.”

Bateman points out that his three teenage children, who are 17, 16 and 12, are also disadvantaged by having no home broadband. They all attend Coláiste Chiaráin, in Croom. “It’s a very high-tech school. Sometimes a lot of the students email their homework to the teachers. If they have a problem with their studies at night, teachers allow them to email them the problem.”

Bateman says broadband is the big issue between rural and urban Ireland. “The country is going at a two-tier level. Really and truly it has to come from the Government.”

‘Rural regions are being driven even further into recession’

Dave Brocklebank, The Burren, Co Clare

Dave Brocklebank set up Burren Yoga and Meditation Centre in 1999 to provide year-round yoga retreats in a setting renowned for its beauty and isolation.

He needs his website to advertise and to deal with inquiries. His current broadband service, from Airwire, costs €45 a month and runs at about 3Mbps. The signal often drops to 1Mbps, making it difficult to do simple tasks online – Brocklebank says updating the website can take between one and 10 hours.

“This results in huge expense in the manpower time needed to do this work. It also results in a lot of the work which should be done on the website being shelved or not completed, due to the frustration in trying to use a service like this.”

He does a lot of business via Skype, but the line frequently drops out during conversations. All of this, he says, leads to a bad customer experience and a loss of revenue for his company.

“We cannot provide web access to our visitors when they come here, as having more than one person using it at a time brings the connection to a halt.

“We are a small ecotourism business, and we bring people into this rural area all year round. When our numbers of visitors fall off, this also affects the other small businesses, such as cafes and visitor centres.”

Brocklebank says he is among the lucky ones, as many businesses in the Burren have no broadband at all. Broadband depends on how close you can get to an Eircom exchange or to the mast of another provider.

Like so many other rural entrepreneurs, Brocklebank sees this as a big disincentive. “Many rural areas are still suffering very badly from the recession and desperately need new employment opportunities to be created,” he says. “If the Government are effectively preventing new businesses from opening as a result of not providing broadband, then many rural regions are being driven even further into recession.

“Much of this will seem unbelievable, or an exaggeration, to many people living in cities. However, there are large numbers of people living in these rural areas where broadband is a dreamt-of luxury which is not going to be provided to them.”

‘You’re still not getting a reliable service’

Nicky Kelly, Borlin, Bantry, Co Cork

Nicky Kelly is the steward general for eventing in Ireland. It is a busy job that means staying in touch with officials and event organisers around the world.

But she has no broadband where she lives. Her normal way to send and receive email is to get a civil-servant friend to do it for her. Her friend then prints out and posts any correspondence, which Kelly collects from her local shop.

She says the absence of broadband is a major inconvenience – and one compounded by patchy mobile-phone coverage that is also no good for internet use. Kelly’s only other option is to drive to an internet cafe in Bantry, 20km away.

“People have suggested that satellite broadband is an option, but the low data limits and high costs are not acceptable. You’re still not getting a reliable service for what you’re paying, and this does not include the telephone,” she says.

“I feel that many people have no concept of the higher costs of living in a rural area.”

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