Today we are all connected. It is obvious in so many areas of life that the mobile phone in our hand, or the tablet and laptop, will be a means of communication, of work and entertainment.
Internet service providers brag about the speed of their broadband, in dynamic, brightly colored advertisements, and it looks like a future space age in technology is really here.
But is it real? We all know the frustration of “losing your line” when trying to talk to someone on a cell phone. Or the ‘I’ll just go back/forward/lean out the window of the house’ when calling someone in a rural area.
Calling for a chat is annoying, but what if your business is located in that rural area? What if the line coming into your property, regardless of the phone or Wi-Fi signal, just isn’t good enough to complete what we now consider basic tasks?
While most urban centers and many rural areas are making progress, are we leaving some communities behind?
Yes, there are commercial companies and satellite broadband providers. Yes, we have a national broadband plan that is rolling out to fill the service gaps where commercial companies have no plans to invest. But there are still communities that fall into gaps, or are told to wait so long for national service to reach them that they feel they will fall behind. That their communities are missing out on business investment, jobs and the opportunity to tap into a whole new set of remote work hubs.
Communities in North and South Kilkenny have raised this issue.
Piltown, in south Kilkenny, is a community where they have taken the problem into their own hands. Faced with a very long wait before the National Broadband Plan infrastructure could serve the city and environs, the voluntary Broadband 4 Our Community (B4OC) group was formed. The non-profit group is community owned and community driven. Community members literally went into the trenches and built their own Fiber-to-the-Premises (FTTP) broadband network, with funding and technical support. 750 homes and businesses in an area of 3.4 square kilometers now, or will soon, have access to at least 150MB of speeds and a future-proof high-speed broadband service they can afford.
Piltown is now seen as a pioneer of nationwide broadband, winning the overall award at the .IE Digital Town Awards 2022.
Another winner of the .IE Digital Town Awards was Urlingford. However, the efforts of that community that garnered praise were steps to try to increase access to technology. The city is still fighting for top-speed modern broadband.
The problem in Urlingford is that the cables serving the town are copper and were installed in the 1980s. And the city currently falls between the national broadband plan and private companies, neither of which have plans to upgrade the city.
A top broadband service runs via fiber optic cables. This is what is installed in Piltown. Urlingford still uses copper wires – and this now poses a real threat to the future development of the town and there are major plans to open a remote work center in the town centre.
Recently, a councilor said the community there was “absolutely surprised they don’t have fast broadband.”
In practice, this means that a business on Main Street in Urlingford cannot always accept card payments, which is something we should take for granted. How can a highly promoted government remote work plan really work if the basic services are unreliable?
It took a global pandemic to force us to live separately and work from home. As noted before, it was a transition that could have taken years, but instead it happened overnight. We have the technology, now we just need to catch up with the infrastructure, otherwise rural communities will be left behind.
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