As the National Broadband Plan seems to have stalled, people’s frustration over lack of connectivity in rural Ireland is reaching boiling point.
You could argue that anywhere that cannot receive broadband is Ireland’s worst broadband black spot, but one town is statistically the worst served.
It is the resting place of one of Ireland’s most beloved cabaret singers, Joe Dolan. It has a chip shop called Mr Chips, a couple of pubs and a petrol station. And, most importantly, it is home to 277 souls, of which 148 are female and 129 are male.
‘We cry out to be treated equally and equitably’
– WILLIE PENROSE, TD
Most notably, Ballynacargy has reached notoriety as Ireland’s broadband black spot, from an urban perspective.
According to the latest Central Statistics Office (CSO) Small Area Population statistics, 50pc of dwellings in the Westmeath village of Ballynacargy have no broadband, the highest level of any town in Ireland.
The revelation comes as the National Broadband Plan remains stalled; it was due to be announced in June, with a late 2017 roll-out. However, it now could be later in the year before any progress is made.
Being named Ireland’s poorest connected town was not appreciated by local Labour TD Willie Penrose, who spoke about the matter on Newstalk FM.
He said he had three daughters engaged in various professions who are “tearing their hair out” over the poor quality of broadband in the area.
“Action never matches rhetoric,” he said angrily. “It is no surprise that we are one of the poorest areas without connectivity.”
He said that despite various commitments by operators over the years, Ballynacargy is constantly overlooked.
“60 years ago, a semi-state company was set up to achieve rural electrification – that was achieved.
“If Telecom Éireann [Eir] was not privatised, maybe we wouldn’t be treated like third-class citizens. We cry out to be treated equally and equitably.”
Penrose said that there is an anomaly in Ireland where big towns have three or four operators competing aggressively in large urban areas for business, but smaller towns and rural areas are ignored.
“We are people who make a valuable contribution to the economy and we would do more if we were given the proper infrastructure to do so,” Penrose said.
Broadband officers in every local authority
The CSO results coincided with the latest progress report of the Mobile Phone and Broadband Taskforce, which claimed that its implementation group is making “tangible progress” in identifying solutions to issues impacting mobile phone and broadband access in rural Ireland.
Minister for Rural and Community Development Michael Ring, TD, said that engagement between the telecoms operators and broadband officers in local authorities is removing barriers.
What these barriers are is not specifically clear, but people in villages such as Ballynacargy want solutions now.
Communications Minister Denis Naughten, TD, said: “The frustration felt by people, particularly in rural Ireland, over poor mobile phone coverage and black spots is something I am very conscious of.
“It is being tackled by the taskforce and today’s report outlines the work that is being done to date across the country. Telecoms operators are now providing details of their network coverage to local authorities to identify black spots and develop plans to fix them.
“There is now a broadband officer as a single point of contact for the public and telecoms operators in each local authority, which is key to overcoming obstacles quickly. This critical work will result in better services across the board, particularly for people living in rural Ireland.”
Let’s hope the people of Ballynacargy and many other rural villages and districts won’t have to wait too long on the wrong side of the digital divide.