NEWS this week of a significant investment in fast, e-fibre broadband for rural locations throughout the country comes not a day too soon. Those who live in metropolitan Limerick have for some time now taken the availability of high-speed broadband for granted and can have little idea of the enormous competitive disadvantage endured – in particular – by businesses in rural areas. Indeed, the situation in some areas is much worse than that. Eleven weeks after the huge February storm caused chaos in Limerick, there are Eircom customers in the county still waiting to have their service reinstated. That is simply intolerable and unacceptable for a company that makes handsome profits. For these unfortunate customers, the idea of broadband speeds of 200mbps and faster is unimaginable, not to mention frustratingly out of reach.
It’s more than five years since this newspaper reported, in January 2009 after the launch of the previous Government’s National Broadband Strategy, that all of County Limerick would have access to high-speed internet “soon”. The word soon, of course, can have different meanings when used by different people. We will spare the blushes of the local politician who trumpeted then: “This is a huge boost for everyone in the county. Every part of the country will soon have reliable broadband access. That means every town, every village and every home in Limerick – urban or rural – will be able to get access to broadband.”
That was then - and those words sound rather hollow in 2014. However, at least this week’s announcement was backed up by specific references to towns and villages throughout the county, even if the list was nowhere near as long as we would have liked.
Credit is due to the many community broadband groups in the Mid-West area who have lobbied long and hard for what should have been taken for granted long before now.
A fast broadband connection can change people’s lives and transform the fortunes of towns and villages. It can turn remote areas starved of investment and jobs into viable locations for dynamic businesses. The pity is that too many of these areas have fallen so far in its absence that the recovery becomes all the more challenging.
And yet only a curmudgeon would not welcome, for the most part, the announcement this week that will put the county capital of Newcastle West, for starters, on a par with the city when it comes to broadband. When will it happen? By July, we are told. One could describe that as ‘soon’, but let’s stick to proper delivery dates.
And July cannot come soon enough for many.