Cross-border digital group looks to expand eastwards

23 Aug 2004

A group based between Donegal and Derry, responsible for the implementation of Europe’s first cross-border information society strategy, is looking at developing similar projects for the remaining central and eastern border regions, has learned.

The group known as ERNACT is seeking to spread its regional networking strategy for the northwest region to the Irish central border area network and east border region and has published a public sector tender seeking organisations capable of providing analysis reports and hosting workshops in these regions aimed at garnering support for the initiative.

It is intended that the plans would ultimately serve to stimulate various local economies, encourage inward investment in the regions and encourage the deployment of cutting-edge broadband networks in those regions.

ERNACT was established by Derry City Council and Donegal County Council in 1990 as a joint cross-border European Economic Interest Grouping (EEIG) to maximise the use and economic benefit of ICT in the area. It is a cross-border public sector organisation jointly established and managed by Derry City Council and Donegal County Council to stimulate the development of the knowledge economy within the northwest. To achieve this ERNACT sources funds, not only from the respective governments, but also directly from Brussels and the INTERREG Programme. In this regard, it works closely with the organisations North West Crossborder Group and Limavady and Strabane Councils.

This money is used not only to develop broadband and wireless broadband infrastructure but also to develop useful services for citizens and communities that take advantage of the broadband infrastructure.

Over the years, the organisation has been very successful in networking with like-minded European regions to tender competitively for high-technology projects and funding from a Brussels-based information technology research and development, transfer and innovation programme. Since its establishment, ERNACT has evolved into a network of regions comprising the Province of Zeeland in the Netherlands, the Region of Cantabria and City of San Sebastian in Spain, Region of Olomouc in the Czech Republic, the Borough of Wirral in the UK and City of Derry, County Donegal and County Galway.

ERNACT’s Digital Economy Project was a successful initiative for the North West Ireland cross-border region. It enabled the cross-border area to develop, experiment with and to implement a single cross-border information society strategy and action plan. This was the first time that an information society strategy was developed on a cross-border basis in Europe.

So far there has been successful e-government collaboration between Donegal County Council and Derry City Council through the project and in May a delegation from ERNACT travelled to Leinster House in Dublin to promote the case for the establishment of a dedicated fibre-optic link between Derry and Letterkenny. Councillor John Kerr, a former telecommunications engineer, pointed out the relatively low cost of installing telecommunication networks compared to roads, waters or other types of infrastructure.

A cross-border broadband link is essential, ERNACT argued, in that it would double to four the number of telecom operators providing services in Derry or Donegal. The improved competition would lower prices, increase reliability and speed up the supply of advanced services. This is vital to attract call centre or software development projects, ERNACT said.

By John Kennedy