And then there was one. Minister for Communications, Denis Naughten, confirmed last week that eir had withdrawn from the National Broadband Plan bidding process and thus thrown the roll-out of broadband across Ireland into further uncertainty.
The company’s decision to pull out follows SIRO’s decision to withdraw last September and means that Enet are the only broadband provider left in the bidding process. While Minister Naughten is adamant that this will speed up the roll-out of high-speed broadband, other local politicians fear that it leaves huge question marks over the plan.
In Co. Roscommon, there’s already a high level of frustration due to the delays in providing faster broadband.
Cathaoirleach of Roscommon County Council, Cllr. Orla Leyden, believes the most recent news is a major blow to the Minister and the Government as well as residents in rural Ireland.
“It’s bad news for the Government and for all people in rural Ireland who have been promised high-speed broadband”.
Cllr. Leyden went on to compare the current National Broadband Plan with the Rural Electrification Scheme of the 1940s.
“If this Government was in power back when the Rural Electrification Scheme was announced, we’d still be in the dark”.
Following recent moves to modernise the agriculture sector, Roscommon Mart Manager, Maura Quigley, believes a lack of high-speed broadband will hamper farmers as they attempt to conduct their business online.
“The Department of Agriculture wants everything done online, such as Sheep Welfare Schemes and calf registration.
“In rural areas, farmers could be in the middle of registering calves and the Internet would go. There are farmers who’ve said they need to be in certain parts of the house to get phone reception or broadband service”.
Digital Skills Coordinator with Roscommon LEADER Partnership, Christopher Scally works closely with farmers in rural areas and he told the Roscommon People that poor broadband or an intermittent service could seriously hamper training efforts.
“I would have done a lot of tutoring around this time last year and in Taughmaconnell they had a community centre and broadband was excellent. Then I go back up to Loughlynn or Lisacul and broadband might be very poor and the population might be a lot denser there than it is in places like Taughmaconnell”.
Christopher says this inconsistency can hold back digital skills learners.
“Overall, a lot of grey hairs have emanated from this project in terms of trying to find the best regions to deliver these computer courses.
“The projects are not designed for one to one tuition, they’re for ten people per class maximum. If you were to ‘hot spot’ off your phone that might be good enough for one laptop but if you were to hot spot ten different laptops where you might not have broadband, the amount of traffic is too much to handle so ultimately it might not be viable to run these courses”.
Christopher says that this could mean put further obstacles in front of farmers currently learning digital skills.
“Just this week the 2018 Basic Payment Scheme applications opened up online and by the end of this year all BPS applications must be 100% compliant online. A lot of these farmers are now left in limbo because they don’t know whether to go through a consultant or a planner or try to complete this themselves online without that confidence (from learning digital skills)”.
Local businesses will suffer too. Cormac Dalton of ArchEngTech Consulting, an engineering firm based in Strokestown, has had major issues with broadband service in the past and believes it’s detrimental to attracting new businesses to rural Ireland.
“We had issues and in the end we got it sorted but it took a year and half. It involved a lot of back and forth with eir until Michael Fitzmaurice put us on the right track.
“We’re a very hands on as a firm and we like to get things done ourselves and there’s no reason why you shouldn’t be able to pick up the phone and get those issues sorted.
“Eir have a hub just off Elphin Street here which offers 100mbps and we are within the radius where we should have been getting 100mbps but we were only getting 9 or 10 at that time”.
Cormac added there was office space available in the region but from his experience, large companies would most certainly be put off due to the lack of high-speed broadband and after hearing some of the problems experienced around the county, who could blame them?