Island in the stream: Arranmore gets a new digitally connected hub
With help from Three, the island off the Donegal coast has got high-speed broadband
Great leap forward: Mol Oifig Digiteach Árainn Mhór (Modam) was established by the Arranmore Business Council to provide 11 high-quality workspaces to islanders and visitors. Photograph: John Rafferty Photography
Ireland’s first offshore digital hub opened for business on Arranmore Island off the coast of Donegal last month. Mol Oifig Digiteach Árainn Mhór (Modam) was established by the Arranmore Business Council with support from Three Business to provide 11 high-quality workspaces to islanders and visitors.
“The idea for the hub goes back to January 2017 when we sat down and looked at what we could do to make the island sustainable and attractive to the diaspora to make Arranmore their home again,” says Adrian Begley of the Arranmore Business Council. “The problem we faced was a lack of employment opportunities on the island. We have loads going for us in terms of quality of life, great schools and so on, but people need to be able to work here as well. We have seen a downturn in our traditional farming and fishing industries and that hasn’t helped. Jobs in finance and IT and other areas can be done remotely, but we didn’t have the connectivity for that.”
In late 2017, the council succeeded in an application to the Town and Village Renewal Scheme for funding for the establishment of a digital hub.
“We had carried out a survey of people who had left the island and had 20 expressions of interest from people who said they would consider moving back to the island if the facilities were there. In mid-2018 we were approached by Three Business who had heard about our issues. They told us their connectivity solutions might be able to help. We had our first face-to-face meeting with them in October and things moved on from there.”
“We looked at the issue from a community point of view first and then looked at the technology and what it could do for the island,” says Stephen Mulligan, enterprise technology consultant with Three Ireland. “The first thing we did was boost the mobile signal and made it as good as it could be for everyone on the island.”
Mulligan and his colleague John O’Sullivan visited the island in the autumn to explore the idea in further detail. “We had conversations with the community council and other people living and working on the island,” says Mulligan. “They told us about the problems they were facing in their personal and working lives as a result of connectivity issues. That led to us working on delivering solutions to as many of those problems as we could.”
The approach was to view the island as a business customer. “We looked at the island as if it was one large business made up of a number of mini-businesses such as the digital hub, the medical centre, the schools, the community centre and other businesses. We looked at each of them and then looked at the tools we had in our armoury to solve their issues.”
That resulted in Three installing a wireless leased line, a managed local area network (LAN), managed firewall, as well as videoconferencing and teleconferencing facilities at the hub.
“We are providing really great connectivity through the wireless leased line,” says Mulligan. “There was a small room in the building which we have turned into a video-conferencing facility with a 55-inch screen and a Cisco WebEx solution. People working there can now make video calls to customers, suppliers and colleagues anywhere in the world and collaborate with them. We also put in an external wifi access point for the B&B which shares the building.”
The project didn’t end there; Three has also provided broadband connectivity to Scoil Athphoirt, the Arranmore ferry, the island’s medical centre, the Arranmore hostel and the community centre. “The hostel is now able to offer wifi to guests,” Mulligan notes.
“It joins up the community,” he adds. “A carer told us a story about how older people like looking at archive footage of island life on YouTube. This wasn’t really possible up until now. That’s just one example of how the improved connectivity is enhancing people’s lives.”
It’s all about the future for the children on the island so we thought it appropriate to go to them for a name
The Modam digital hub is now up and running, with five people working there already. The name came about as a result of a competition run in the local schools.
“It’s a clever play on words suggested by a pupil in the secondary school,” says Begley. “It’s all about the future for the children on the island so we thought it appropriate to go to them for a name. The hub is as good a facility as you’ll get anywhere, and there is a lot of interest in it. We now don’t think we have enough desks, but that’s a good problem to have.”
And it’s not only people living on the island who stand to benefit.
“The digital hub is located in the same building as a B&B,” says Begley. “This makes it ideal for digital nomads who might want to take extended holidays on the island and work at the same time. It is also suitable for companies who want to go for corporate weekends away. It has the potential to put the island on the map for these things.”