Tourism businesses are losing “invaluable” free publicity because of the poor phone and broadband coverage in the county.
According to John Connolly of Hazel Mountain Chocolate, “Social media can generate such momentum behind a business” and poor internet access prohibits people from “advertising your business for free”.
Mr Connolly added that, for many businesses, strong broadband is necessary from a basic operational level.
“We have had every provider in the country come to us and no one was able to offer us guaranteed internet. We ended up using satellite broadband, which is just fast enough for the visa machine, if you stand in the right place in room. Last year we went to a cocoa plantation in Costa Rica; they had broadband and phone coverage and they didn’t even have a flushing toilet,” he said.
The phone coverage is so bad in some parts of the county that a local priest asked one mobile operator if erecting a mast on the steeple of a church would improve matters.
Fr Pat O’Neill made the suggestion because he believes people in the parish of Dysart and Ruan are being marginalised because of a lack of mobile coverage. “The mobile phone is a fact of life. It is being used by everybody for all kinds of different functions. With online banking, registering cattle and so on, all business is done online now and that is the reality of the modern world, so if you can’t get online, it is a big difficulty and people are being deprived if they don’t have adequate internet.”
Fr O’Neill believes all mobile operators should have to provide equal quality of service, regardless of location.
“When the State gave the franchise to these companies to do business, our politicians should have said they have to provide an equal service to the whole country. They didn’t do that and since then, they have had the ability to cherry pick,” he stated.
“You should be able to do business anywhere in this country. You should be able to contact anyone from anywhere, especially with the technology that we have. Ghandi said that there is more than enough in the world for the needy but not half enough for the greedy and these businesses are interested in making money and they will provide for the big populations. The reality is they will cater for areas of higher population and for the rest of the people, they are not interested and Ruan doesn’t have the population,” he continued.
Fr O’Neill said he found coverage in Ruan village and in the vicinity of Dysart church “particularly poor”.
“I mentioned it to the person in the shop that there is a high steeple on the church in Ruan and it might be a good place for a mast. They never came back to me. Even if they thought it would work, I would have to get permission from the diocese but nobody ever followed up about it at all.”
“An awful lot of people have disposed of the landline and want to use mobiles. They are vital for doing business. In my case, arranging masses or people contacting me in an emergency, it can be very difficult,” he stated.
According to John Connolly, mobile coverage on the Wild Atlantic Way at Belharbour is no better. “A lot of people now plan their journey on the go, using their phone or tablet while they are on holidays. Without coverage, they can’t do that and don’t know about the businesses in the area,” he said.
“Another major negative with the lack of mobile coverage is that people can’t ‘check in’ at your business on social media. The power of social media is so strong in terms of generating momentum behind your business. If 200 people visit the café and 100 of them ‘check in’, the power of that is unbelievable compared to three Facebook likes at 7pm when they get back to their hotel in Galway. If people cannot access the internet while on the premise, they can’t advertise your business for free.
“All our tills operate from apps on our tablet, so we use the cloud all the time and uploading all that information at the end of the day is very difficult. Good broadband is vital for a small business to survive,” he went on.
Councillor Pat Hayes said “the whole of the county is struggling with this”.
“There are calls dropping the whole time. We have been completely let down by the phone companies…We have some of the highest costs in the world for mobile phones and it is shocking that people have to go outside the backdoor or up to the church to take a call,” he stated.
By Nicola Corless