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Elon Musk's SpaceX is helping a broadband 'dead-zone' in Cork to get better internet

“I tabled a question to Tesla on their noticeboard, and it was picked up on… I was then contacted directly by SpaceX.”

Tesla CEO Elon Musk; Emma Fitzpatrick and Lesley Cox.
Tesla CEO Elon Musk; Emma Fitzpatrick and Lesley Cox.

TECH BILLIONAIRE ELON Musk is to help improve internet connections for locals in a broadband dead-zone in Co Cork, after a businesswoman got in touch with his company about her patchy connection.

Emma Fitzpatrick is an acupuncturist who offers therapies and online classes to help teach people exercises to de-stress. Since the pandemic hit, she, her husband and two children have been competing for internet from their home in Knockawaddra, Co Cork.

During lockdowns, particularly when the children were attending school online and her husband was working from home, Fitzpatrick says that they were in competition for the Internet. 

“And if there was a mere puff of wind, I couldn’t get on, or I’d be stressing that I couldn’t get on,” she told The Journal of trying to run her business.

So they upgraded to mobile broadband, but after a particularly strong gust of wind, the whole system crashed. When the engineer arrived to fix the problem, Fitzpatrick said he told her they were “2km too far out for us to service you”.

He told me ‘If I tried to service you, I’d probably lose my job’. So it was a sink or swim moment.

Desperate to keep her business afloat, Fitzpatrick asked around about the issue with her neighbours, and found that they were all struggling with poor, patchy broadband.

There are four micro businesses in the area, including artist Lesley Cox, who was finding it would take half an hour to upload a photo. Other locals said people had lost jobs because they couldn’t be online, and children had lost out on learning.

So Fitzpatrick and Cox began a campaign to get better internet to the area. Fitzpatrick found that fibre was the solution to broadband ‘dead-zones’ – but a fibre connection stopped 1km away from them.

The difference it would make for them would be massive: an upload speed of 40-50 MB per 30 seconds versus the 0.7 upload speed she currently has.

During her campaign to get fibre for her area, Fitzpatrick heard that tech billionaire Elon Musk had helped locals in the dead-zone of Black Valley in Co Kerry to get a connection.

“I decided to reach out to him, so I tabled a question to Tesla on their noticeboard, and it was picked up on… I was then contacted directly by SpaceX.”

Elon Musk is the founder and CEO of SpaceX, which has developed Starlink: low Earth orbit satellites that provide satellite Internet access. SpaceX has now signed Fitzpatrick and Cox up for a trial. If the system is then approved by ComReg it could make a big difference to locals in Knockawaddra – as well as other hard-to-reach areas in rural Ireland. 

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“The equipment is shipped, and we’re really excited about this, it could make a big difference to four micro businesses, and lots of people will be able to effectively work from home.

“If successful, they would surely have a good market for our community here, and a wider market in Ireland.”

Fitzpatrick said it was a shame that Ireland’s stalled and much-troubled National Broadband Plan couldn’t respond to rural Ireland as fast as Sillicon Valley could.

“We’re excited, but saddened that it took two weeks of hard campaigning and reaching out to Sillicon Valley to get it done. I had to park a lot of work to be able to do this.”

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