Rural business idyll ruptured by rude lack of broadband

Belmont Mill in Co Offaly offers a lot to craft workers and artists – but no real internet

Sandy Lloyd of Belmont Mill feels the Government has been welcoming multinationals but not offering broadband to  people who live in Ireland. Photograph: Liam Kidney

Sandy Lloyd of Belmont Mill feels the Government has been welcoming multinationals but not offering broadband to people who live in Ireland. Photograph: Liam Kidney

 

Typifying the sort of small creative rural enterprise hubs being actively promoted by the Government, Belmont Mill in Co Offaly is host to a violin maker, a boat builder, an award-winning milliner and several artists. However, it cannot secure reliable broadband.

The picturesque five-storey mill by the banks of the river Brosna was restored by Sandy Lloyd and Tom Dolan, who bought the property in 2000 and turned it into an art studio and craft centre.

“We run all sorts of things here, we have made a hub of excitement here,” says Lloyd.

As with all modern enterprises, Belmont Mill Art and Craft Studios requires broadband in order to operate.

“We have gone through so many mobile wireless internet connections,” Lloyd says.

Each of the artists working in Belmont Mill has resorted to bringing their own wifi, she says. “They have all got individual dongles, the wireless wifi that you have to hang up in the window.”

Lloyd feels the Government has been falling over itself to welcome multinationals but she believes the same attention is lacking when it comes to the people who live in Ireland. “Is this the way to run your business here?”

If any serious internet activity needs to be carried out, Dolan says he leaves the mill and heads for the nearest town, Ferbane. “It’s third-world. The developing world is ahead of us,” he says.

Fast and reliable?

Dolan recalls how an American glass-maker planned to base himself at the mill and use a water-operated turbine to power his operation. The man wanted to set up the only green energy glass studio in Ireland. However, he decided to move to Northern Ireland instead as“his business was going to have to operate quite substantially on the internet”.

In order to get fast, reliable internet coverage, Dolan says he has even offered internet providers the option of putting a transmitter on top of the mill for free.He believes the situation is at odds with the “fairytale of Enda Kenny telling people that this is the best little country to do business in”.

On the Slieve Bloom mountains in nearby Kinnitty, Co Offaly, local councillor, publican and glamping site operator John Clendennen (FG) decided to take action. He was worried that internet blackspots would emerge as the broadband rollout began.

The internet is as important as electricity – not only do the bookings come in online but the businesses management system is also online, he says. “If that is down, we might as well close.”

Local blackspot

To tackle the problem, Clendennen arranged a meeting between the Offaly County Council’s broadband officer and internet provider Wireless Connect. The aim was to persuade the local authority to agree to allow the company use council infrastructure to erect transmitters free of charge. “It is something I came up with as a solution rather than letting my area become a blackspot,” he says.

Institute of Professional Auctioneers and Valuers chief executive Pat Davitt says access to broadband is becoming a major issue for house-hunters and his members alike. “We are going to get into a situation where people will be valuing a house with broadband in it or not.”

While he doesn’t believe it devalues a property at present, Davitt believes the lack of broadband, or provision for broadband in an area, will limit interest. He pointed out that mobile phone coverage has also become a major issue outside urban areas.