Meath is traditionally known as the royal county. Once the seat of kings it is now a largely rural county and it gives the impression of a sleepy rural backwater. It has 134,000 inhabitants, yet the five largest urban areas account for less than half of that population. But appearances can be deceptive. Behind the rural facade, Meath is a powerhouse of activity especially in the ICT arena.
Similar to most of the country, Meath is looking forward to the widespread rollout of broadband communications. While passed over in the first round of funding for the metropolitan area networks (MANs), it has come out better in the second and third rounds. In total seven urban areas have been approved for MANs: Navan, Trim, Ashbourne/Dunshaughlin/Ratoath, Kells, Athboy, Dulleek and Laytown/Bettystown. Work on these MANs, however, has been deferred until the end of the year. According to Frank Fitzmaurice, economic development officer for County Meath ]QUERY[, this was to allow both second and third-round processes to be completed so that the work on the country could be carried out in one fell swoop.
Fitzmaurice is looking forward to the completion of the work as it will mark another critical piece in the infrastructure jigsaw of the county. Two of the country’s motorways and an additional two main roads pass through Meath: M1, M4, N2 and N3 and the latter two are about to be upgraded. In addition, the reopening of the rail link from Dublin to Dunboyne, and possibly Navan, is being considered.
“The arrival of these networks will have a major impact on the county, especially on the major towns,” says Fitzmaurice. “There is considerable pent-up demand for broadband in the county, particularly in Navan where a number of overseas companies have taken space in the business park.” He acknowledges the contribution made to the success of the business park by BT Ireland and Eircom that provide telecommunications services to the occupants. However, he believes the installation of a Navan MAN will open up competition and improve the attractiveness of the region.
The need to attract more jobs to Meath was highlighted by the recent report on the Work in Meath (]BOLD[www.workinmeath.ie]BOLD[) initiative. This online service was launched in December of last year to prove that Meath has the skills necessary to attract investment. Some 1,700 people, more than 10pc of the commuting population of the county, have registered an interest in working in Meath and 42pc of them work in either the IT or financial services sector.
However, broadband is not just for businesses. As has been seen all around the country, there is considerable demand for residential broadband. Enabling inexpensive broadband allows small businesses to flourish and encourages telecommuting. The county is therefore taking a very proactive stance on the provision of services through the Group Broadband Scheme.
The community of Ballivor received funding in the first round of the scheme and the county is now actively promoting a further 24 towns and villages for second-round funding. Interest in the scheme is high, says Fitzmaurice. An information session in October of last year was very well attended and brought together local interest groups and internet service providers.
By David Stewart