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'You wouldn't see this on Father Ted' - Why bad broadband is hurting rural Ireland

The country is behind many eastern European nations when it comes to broadband access.

THOUSANDS OF RURAL businesses are having their growth stunted and communities are being left isolated because they rely on decade-old internet technology.

And despite the government talking up its technology credentials, those in many country regions say they have seen little real commitment to bring them into the digital age.

Only 67% of all Irish households had access to broadband connections last year and that figure has barely increased since 2011.

The broadband-penetration rate is lower here than in virtually any highly-developed economy and in Europe it lags behind countries including Latvia, Hungary and Poland.

In the nation with the highest broadband-access rate in Europe, Iceland, 95% of households had the technology last year, according to the latest Eurostat figures.

A government taskforce was set up look at the problem and in its 2012 report it recognised the “transformative impact” high-speed broadband could have on society.

The flow-on benefits would lead to more economic growth and jobs, and come as a boost to business, particular the small- and medium-enterprise (SME) sector.

But the report identified that, if the situation was left to purely commercial interest, anywhere up to 30% of Ireland’s population would still only have access to the basic services currently available by 2020.

The small business

Aisling Hurley runs her digital-marketing training operation, The Small Business Fairy, from her home near Vicarstown in rural Co Laois. Her enterprise relies on a slow and intermittent satellite signal.

AISLING FULL RTE PHOTO (1) Aisling Hurley from The Small Business Fairy

“It’s a huge issue – you have the government pushing that we are a technology country, but then we don’t have the infrastructure there to come with it,” she told

Hurley said she was used to losing her broadband connection altogether due to bad weather or other problems, which meant she often had to call off conference calls or delay important business on short notice.

“It’s the sort of stuff that makes you look really unprofessional – and the other thing, of course, is the cost,” she said.

Hurley said it wasn’t a viable option for businesses like hers to simply relocate to a town with fixed-line broadband access, while there were also many farm-based operations that were becoming increasingly dependent on the internet.

“There are quite a lot of businesses in rural Ireland that are a reasonable size, but then you hear stories about how a cow kicked out their satellite dish and they have completely lost their internet connections,” she said.

Seriously, you wouldn’t see this on Father Ted.”

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Ireland should be ‘reaping the benefit’ of digital economy

Another report, delivered by then-communications minister Pat Rabbitte on the government’s National Broadband Plan, said about 90% of surveyed small and medium enterprises (SMEs) saw the positive benefits of internet for their business.

Provision of quality high speed broadband across Ireland should ensure that such opportunities are fully harnessed and that Ireland reaps the benefits of a truly digital economy,” it said.

Between 2008 and this year Three Ireland was paid €80 million to fix internet blackspots under the earlier National Broadband Scheme before government funding was pulled from the program in August.

Once the scheme ended, Three didn’t have to maintain the services it had agreed under the contract despite the provider being handed a near monopoly in large swathes of the country.

The government has since announced it would be spending €500 million on the new plan and for over a year it has been mapping potential locations in about 1,000 small towns and villages for high-speed fibre connections.

The village centre

On of those on that list of “target areas” is the village of Kilmovee, population about 600, in Co Mayo, home to the annual Kilmovee 10K run.


It was also on the list for Three’s mobile broadband rollout, but Rupert Davis, who runs the community website said once the government contract ended it was like the provider “just turned the dials down”.

It’s quite shocking – it’s extremely unreliable; sometime it drops off completely and it can be a couple of hours before it’s back of a level where you can continue doing the banking, for example,” he said.

(A spokeswoman for Three told us the telecoms company had “met all contractual obligations” under the broadband scheme and it continued providing that service. She said it would have to look at any customers’ service problems on a case-by-case basis.)

Davis is also a voluntary directory at Kilmovee’s community centre, where pay-point and internet services have been set up for the region’s elderly residents – although during frequent outages, locals have to travel to larger, nearby towns to get things like financial transfers done.

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“All we want is for the local exchange to be upgraded to be able to offer fixed-line broadband to the people of Kilmovee and the surrounding area,” he said.

We are a rural area – to deprive us of that it ludicrous, especially when we pride ourselves (as a country) on technology.”

The village was too small to be chosen for commercial ventures recently announced from either Eircom or the joint enterprise from Vodafone and ESB as they roll out fibre-to-the-home networks across Ireland.

Instead, Davis signed the centre up for a satellite connection, although the added cost was significant for a community-run facility, while they wait on the finalised list for the National Broadband Plan and to learn when it would finally be delivered.

The minister

Meanwhile, Communications Minister Alex White, who replaced Rabbitte in the job in July, has stated that getting better broadband services into rural Ireland was his first priority.

File photo:Alan White Sasko Lazarov / Photocall Ireland Communications Minister Alex White Sasko Lazarov / Photocall Ireland / Photocall Ireland

More than 2 years after the National Broadband Plan was first flagged, he will announce its next phase in just over a week when a full map of the rollout is released.

This … will show the locations across Ireland that will have access to commercially-provided high speed, high-quality broadband by the end of 2016, and the remaining locations, which will require state intervention to provide access to high speed, high-quality broadband,” White’s spokesman told us.

He said there had been a “welcome acceleration” in commercial services being expanded, although the government still needed to intervene for some areas. Tendering for this part of the plan was expected to start next year.

But that news comes as little comfort for small business owners like Hurley, whose region hasn’t even made the provisional list for the broadband plan.

“You get excited when you read about these things, but in reality there is not going to be thousands of towns and villages chosen,” she said.

We keep referring to (the ones that are) as ‘the chosen ones’.”

READ: 250 Cork homes campaign to get proper internet, mobile and landline services >

READ: Here is why the government is to begin mapping broadband nationwide >

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