Midland towns need high-speed Internet access, says consultant


All midland towns will need two types of high-speed Internet access if they are not to lose new industries to other parts of the State, a senior telecommunications consultant will tell an e-business conference today.

Mr John Howard, of Norcontel, a telecommunications consultancy firm, said two types of broadband network, digital subscriber line and fibre-optic cable, would be a key element in the region's future industrial development.

If these telecommunications channels were not available, companies may set up elsewhere in the State, or in other countries. "A town in the midlands is not just competing with other midland towns.

"It is also competing with a town in Holland," he said.

A digital subscriber line, which uses the existing phone line, offers an Internet link that is at least 10 times faster than the standard dial-up connection and is suitable for homes and small businesses. Fibre-optic cable is better for larger businesses, he said.

Mr Howard said the deployment of the digital subscriber line was expected a year ago, but has not yet occurred, due to regulatory issues.

He will be speaking today at the Midlands Chamber of Commerce Consortium Conference 2002, in Tullamore, Co Offaly.

Ms Ruth McGarry-Quinn, managing director of Torc Truffles based in Longford, will tell the conference that online business accounts for at least 4 per cent of her company's overall turnover.

The company sells its chocolates to customers in the UK, US and Asia.

She told The Irish Times the exclusion of the town in the recently announced first phase of the Government's broadband programme left businesses at a huge "competitive disadvantage".

Online orders have benefited the Lough Ree Powerboat School. Its managing director, Mr Stuart McNamara, will tell those attending the conference that by shopping around for a suitable web design firm they could develop their online businesses for a "fraction of the cost of some Internet service providers".

At the beginning of the year, the Government said it would invest €300 million to build broadband networks in 123 towns over the next five years.

The three-phase broadband programme will bring 50,000 km of fibre broadband Internet networks to 19 towns by the end of next year, at a cost of €60 million. Included in this first phase were Athlone, Mullingar, Portlaoise and Tullamore.

Priority towns for the second phase include Portarlington, Longford, Tullamore, Birr, and Edenderry.