HUGE tracts of Clare are on the wrong side of the so-called ‘digital divide’ according to local politicians and business people, with concerns this is hampering economic development and will continue to do so for years to come.
Research published this week by switcher.ie shows that there is an average download speed in Clare of 17.4 Megabits per second (Mbps). This is the 12th quickest of the 26 counties and while this is dramatically quicker than last-placed Longford (just 7.25Mbps), it is also way behind first-placed Dublin (44.85Mbps) and also some distance behind Waterford (27.9Mbps) and Kildare (27.36Mbps).
The research also shows that Shannon, home to companies such as IT giant Intel, has an average download speed of 51.64 Mbps, the eighth quickest city or town in Ireland.
While the figure in Shannon is almost three times quicker than the average for the county, there is no doubt that many rural areas are experiencing much slower speeds.
Fianna Fáil TD Timmy Dooley said the relatively healthy average figure for Clare masks a lot of problems.
“We have good broadband in parts of Ennis and other urban areas. That’s fine and it meets the business needs there. But averages hide the true facts. There are small businesses all over Clare, whether they be shops or pubs or farms, that need access to the internet. There are many families whose children need access to the internet for projects for school, for college work and they find it impossible to get adequate download speeds.”
It seems like broadband has been an issue for rural Ireland for an eternity, but Deputy Dooley warned that things are still moving too slowly.
“The sad thing about it is there is no end in sight. Notwithstanding that the Government have had a national broadband strategy/plan underway since 2012, we still don’t have a tender document circulated to appoint a company or group of companies to deliver it. There is going to be a lead-in time to roll this broadband out and there is now talk that it could take four to five years. All the while, technology is changing and content requires faster download speeds. We are way behind the European index on this.”
He contrasted the roll-out of broadband with the rural electrification scheme in the 20th Century. “When you look at the electrification of Ireland, nobody said that if you lived out on the top of a hill in Inagh or in Ogonnelloe or Broadford or Cooraclare, you should get a lesser voltage than people in places like Ennis or Kilrush or Shannon. What we’re saying at the moment is that it is ok for Ennis to have 220 volts in electrical terms and it is ok for people in rural areas to have 10 volts.”
Kilrush-based Councillor Ian Lynch said that broadband provision is very poor in West Clare and the public are vexed by the issue. “There is a huge sense of anger and frustration about it. There is also concern that because we haven’t got it, the door is closed for businesses to come here. People are just getting the feeling that we have been forgotten about again.
“They seem to have said ‘there is only a sparse population in West Clare or in North Clare or even in East Clare, don’t worry about them, let’s look after where we can make money’,” Councillor Ian Lynch said.
Maireád O’Brien, the manager of the Woodland Bistro at the Vandeleur Walled Garden in Kilrush, said the poor quality of broadband is hampering her business.
“We have a beautiful conference room upstairs and we have interest from people in running computer classes or maybe other classes where technology would be needed. We can’t proceed with our business because we have no proper wifi. We can’t provide that service. There is a demand for it; people are travelling to Ennis.
“Myself and another woman who works here did a course on how to use social media to promote your business but we had to travel to Ennis to do it. Half of the people there were from West Clare because they couldn’t do it in Kilrush because they wouldn’t be able to guarantee that 10 people sitting in a room would be able to connect to a wifi and sustain that connection. It’s outrageous.
“We have local people wanting to run courses or if they have home offices, they may want to use our facilities if they have visiting experts to train them up in something. But they can’t use our facilities. We have an empty room we can’t utilise. If you personally wanted to send off an article from here you couldn’t because the wifi is poor. Maybe you could do it if you sat on the stairs.
“We can’t have a credit card machine down in the coffee shop because the signal stops at the stairs. We have to leave the machine at reception because the wifi signal won’t stretch. It impedes business at every step,” she concluded.
By Owen Ryan