Rural Ireland abandoned on broadband

21 July 2017

Deputy Willie Penrose reacts to the information emanating from the CSO Survey, that Ballynacargy has one of the lowest levels of broadband coverage in rural areas across the Country.

Deputy Penrose Stated “There has been a cacophony of lip service to rural Ireland by many Ministers of various political persuasions over the last number of years. They always state that they wish to ensure that citizens of rural areas who have a valued contribution to make to economic activity will have the tools to do so. Unfortunately the action that follows subsequently never matches the rhetoric involved in these sentiments. I am not surprised at the fact that Ballyancargy and other rural areas in the surrounding hinterlands have been deemed the poorest in terms of broadband coverage in the Country because when you live among the people as I do, every day you hear their experiences being related, their deep frustrations and their intense disappointments at the failure to have high speed broadband delivered to them notwithstanding the National Broadband Plan’s ambition to achieve 100% broadband across Ireland.

I am aware of people who have businesses, and people who would like to start-up businesses who are left totally disappointed as they listened carefully to various commitments being uttered in the Dáil and elsewhere, but the ink is hardly dry upon the statements, when another problem which gives a blow to the wonderful intentions are identified and we are placed further back in the queue.

Over the past three weeks or so we learned from the Minister for Communications, Climate Action and Environment, that it appears that the delivery of the National Broadband Plan is going to be pushed back by another year. The lack of explanation and transparency about the delay suggests that Eir has the Minister over a barrel and he is no longer in control of the process. It appears that on the face of it nothing can be delivered beyond a certain point until Eir have finished their connection process and select areas, which the Minister has indicated will not be until the end of next year. I would call upon the Minister to show some courage, and not be caught between two Masters.

“There are approximately 927,000 homes and premises across rural Ireland who currently do not have high speed broadband and any further delay to the roll out of the Government’s scheme is simply unacceptable. In the context of the CSO results it is clear that if we want to get rural Ireland trending we need high speed broadband and full mobile coverage. If you cannot make a call on your mobile phone or get on the internet to conduct your business or communications, you are working with both hands tied behind your back. This is extremely important even for students as a lot of lecture notes are now being made available by way of the internet and the possibility of availing of distant learning becomes remote. This relegates us to effectively third class citizens and the last time I checked we were paying the same level of taxes as our urban counterparts and indeed we are now going to be landed with the Rates Revaluation System which rather than assist small businesses in rural locations it will actually be a significant burden for many small shops across our rural landscape and will help accelerate their demise.

As I stated in the Dáil recently, in rural Ireland rural people are continually fighting to be just treated equally and treated with equity and as I stated then, it is not a beal bocht plea, it is effectively seeking equal treatment by way of ensuring that we get our just desserts. Connectivity by way of high speed broadband is the key to unlocking the potential of the rural people. It is some sixty years since that there was an even bigger challenge for the Government of the day and it concerned the Rural Electrification programme. Then, technology was extremely limited, and a lot of physical and manual work had to be undertaken and it was a significant challenge. But in order to ensure that the objective of rural electrification became a reality a Semi State Company the ESB was set up and it set about in a planned way the objective of achieving rural electrification and it ultimately was achieved with electricity being provided to the most rural corners of our Country. Of course it is my strong view that if Telecom Eireann had not been privatised some years ago maybe we would not find ourselves as third class citizens today as Telecom Eireann was reaching the remotest areas of our Country in relation to the provision of telephonic services.

It is also somewhat ironic, that the two areas of Westmeath which have been identified by Eir as been broadband blackspots, namely my own home area of Ballynacargy and the adjacent parish area of Ballymore, have effectively been eliminated from a map, which I understood set out the priority areas for Eir to ensure we get the appropriate service. Large urban areas have at least three major competitors which provide high speed broadband and I am delighted that residents of these areas have the opportunity to choose commercially, but the people across Ballynacargy and Ballymore and down into Legan, Colehill and Keenagh would be delighted to have Eir provide the high speed broadband to which they are duly entitled and which they deserve. Instead it is a nightmare scenario from a broadband perspective when you reside in rural Ireland and all we have encountered is setback after setback and rural areas are effectively being abandoned by the major commercial companies and they are effectively being left to the National Broadband Scheme to make sure that they achieve broadband coverage. As I have stated above this would appear to take a number of years unless the Minister acts and requests the three bidders who are involved and who have bid to roll out the new high speed broadband network within the Stated Intervention Area, to get on with their tender submissions and have the preferred bidder identified without any further obstacles or delays.

If this Government is serious about prioritising investment in small towns and villages across our regions, and in particular in those areas which have not benefited from the jobs recovery then it should be obvious to them that there is no substitute for infrastructural investment by the State for long-term development, including the provision of high speed broadband in rural Ireland.

It is clear to me that further policy and regulatory frameworks need to be put in place to stimulate commercial companies to deliver top quality internet to the maximum number of homes and businesses across rural area.” Concluded Deputy Penrose

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