FRUSTRATION at poor broadband across large sections of East Clare has intensified as more people try to work and study from home in response to the pandemic.
One Tulla resident has told The Champion of her efforts to improve her family’s service which has involved contacting ten different providers, to no avail.
The women, who lives just a few kilometres from the town, is a customer with Eir and uses a mobile broadband dongle. “I originally had broadband through the phone line and the service was very poor,” she explained. “The mobile device is supposed to provide wireless internet for up to ten devices, but if you have any more than two connected, it is a disaster. I’m working from home and my daughter was in Leaving Cert, so her studies had to take priority. At best, the service is okay, but that’s all. It is affected by bad weather too, which doesn’t help.”
After trying ten different service providers and having a number of them visit her home, the best the woman could secure was a a promise to match her current service. “I don’t mind paying,” she said, “it’s just that I can’t get a decent service, which is so frustrating because there is high-speed broadband available in an area just 1km away.”
While surveying is under way in parts of East Clare on behalf of the government-backed National Broadband Plan, the woman has secured no details on when she may be able to avail of that. An email from the plan’s administrators, seen by The Champion, said the woman was living in an area categorised as amber. “This means it is in an area where commercial operator providers have told us they have no plans to deliver high speed broadband service,” the email said. “High speed broadband will be brought to this premises by the National Broadband Plan State Intervention.”
No time-frame was given to the woman, who said that her family remains struggling with a poor service. “Decent broadband is essential in this day and age and we have no idea when things will improve,” she said.
The issue has been raised with Clare County Council multiple times by Councillor Pat Hayes who said some people who had contacted him were willing to get cables laid in order to try to connect with high-speed services. “The problem is that they can’t even get the likes to Eir to provide any kind of information or to advise them on how to do this,” the Killaloe District Cathaoirleach said. “We made a major mistake by selling Eircom out of State ownership. We need to know what kind of infrastructure is in place and I’m hearing that it is turning out to be a Pandora’s Box.”
Councillor Hayes said his own situation, where three of his children are doing third-level studies from rural East Clare, was mirrored across the country. “I’ve heard stories of all kinds of awful situations created because people can’t get online,” he said. “There is a real crisis and I’m getting calls on a daily basis. People working from home are having to drive miles to find a location where they can get a mobile broadband signal.”
In relation to the roll-out of the National Broadband Plan, the Caher native said that people in rural areas needed some kind of clear time frame. “It’s highly frustrating that, as a public representative, I can’t get information for the people I represent,” he said. “There is no accountability from the providers either.”
Councillor Hayes acknowledged the success of initiative like the digital hub in Feakle, as well as plans to roll one out in Flagmount, but said that these are only going to be able to cater for relatively small numbers.
“The hubs are great initiatives in themselves, but the reality is that people need services in their homes for work, study, social connections and entertainment,” he said. “High speed broadband is now a basic service and while we’re waiting for the National Broadband Plan, we need clarity on the time-frame.”