Broadband plan needed to avoid ‘second class’ service, says Hogan

‘It is clear the commercial sector has abandoned rural Ireland,’ says Commissioner

Teagasc student Killian Faulkner; Cathriona Hallahan, managing director of Microsoft Ireland; Gerry Boyle, director of Teagasc;  European Commissioner Phil Hogan; and Teagasc student Noel Prunty at Ballyhaise Agricultural College in Co Cavan on Saturday. Photograph: Naoise Culhane

Teagasc student Killian Faulkner; Cathriona Hallahan, managing director of Microsoft Ireland; Gerry Boyle, director of Teagasc; European Commissioner Phil Hogan; and Teagasc student Noel Prunty at Ballyhaise Agricultural College in Co Cavan on Saturday. Photograph: Naoise Culhane

 

European Commissioner Phil Hogan has said the Government should make an investment in broadband provision in rural Ireland “and the sooner the better”.

Asked about the controversy over the €3 billion price tag for the National Broadband Plan, the Commissioner for Agriculture and Rural Development said he did not know the details of the pricing structure and was not aware of what the Government’s proposals would be. “But all I would say is you are either going to make an investment in rural Ireland or you are not.”

Speaking in Co Cavan on Saturday, the Commissioner said : “I think the Irish Government definitely should make an investment in broadband provision in rural Ireland because we are lagging behind urban areas considerably.”

Only 40 per cent of rural areas had access to high speed broadband compared to 80 per cent of urban areas, “which is certainly unfair to rural people and rural citizens,” he said.

“The Government I think is wise to consider investing because otherwise we will leave people as second class citizens in rural Ireland and it is clear the commercial sector has abandoned rural Ireland in terms of provision from their own resources”, he told reporters.

Mr Hogan was speaking at Ballyhaise Agricultural College at the launch of a Teagasc/Microsoft pilot project which will extend connectivity throughout the college’s 220 hectare campus.

Business Enterprise and Innovation Minister Heather Humphreys defended the National Broadband Plan, saying: “If you want to deliver broadband up every laneway and boreen in this county, that is not going to be cheap. If it was easy and cheap it would have been done long ago by the commercial sector.”

Former Agriculture Minister and local TD Fianna Fáil Brendan Smith who also attended the launch said “I cannot emphasise enough how disappointed people are about the delay in rolling out this plan.”

Broadband was an issue in every county he visited during his European Parliament election campaign, he said, “but we need clarity from the Government on the costs”.

The Microsoft Airband project launched at Ballyhaise was described as “a game changer for Irish farmers” by Cathriona Hallahan, MD of Microsoft Ireland. She was speaking as a memo of understanding was signed by Microsoft and Teagasc which will see both organisations work together to develop technology for the agricultural sector.

The first initiative to be rolled out under the MOU is a pilot project which will allow students attending the agricultural college in Ballyahise to access internet-based digital technology while training and working remotely in the fields and outbuildings across the 220-hectare campus .

The pilot is part of Microsoft’s Airband global initiative, which “aims to extend connectivity to under-served, rural communities around the world”.

The company uses “ TV White Spaces” or unassigned broadcast spectrum formerly used by analogue television, which permits broadband to travel over long distances, and penetrate natural and man-made obstacles.

Professor Gerry Boyle, Teagasc director said the technology would allow Teagasc to have high speed broadband across all its farm land in Ballyhaise.

“This project will allow us to bring technology that has previously been restricted to the classroom directly to the field’” he said.