North/South digital corridor to get €500k funding

18 Aug 2003

The pioneering Armagh-Monaghan Digital Corridor (AMDC) is awaiting approval for €500,000 in funding from Interreg and the Department of Communications, Marine and Natural Resources. The funding will be used to pilot an ambitious plan that will see the appointment of an agency responsible for running the organisation’s broadband infrastructure in the region as well as wireless satellite and line-of-sight broadband for local businesses.

When it was established three years ago, AMDC received £2m sterling in funding from Invest NI, Enterprise Ireland, IDA Ireland, Interreg II, Monaghan County Enterprise Board, Monaghan County Council, Armagh City and District Council, Armagh Economic Development Group, Co-operation Ireland and the International Fund for Ireland. Interreg II is an EU scheme aimed at preparing border areas for a community without frontiers and filling in missing gaps in trans-European networks.

The cross-border agency is credited with since creating over 500 jobs in the region though attracting businesses to establish there based on plans to establish a broadband corridor linking the two counties. Some 380 call centre posts were created in the past year by Answer Call Direct as well as 120 technology jobs at Southern companies Eblana and Datacare.

The jobs have been created at two buildings known as M:tek and A:tek which were built two years ago. A 34Mbps link between the two buildings is due to be completed by the end of the year. At the A:tek building in Armagh a point-of-presence has been established to enable businesses to make the most out of the nearby backbone networks of NTL and BT.

Once the connection is in place, companies will have high-speed access to the internet and videoconferencing. In addition, A:tek companies will no longer have to pay international leased line rates to the Republic and M:tek companies will have affordable data connections to Britain.

According to AMDC’s business development manager Bernard Conlon, the cross-border agency is awaiting confirmation from Interreg and the Department of Communications, Marine and Natural Resources of a €500,000 grant that will be used to pilot an ambitious project that will see the appointment of an independent firm to manage the 34Mbps link as well as a myriad of broadband technologies in the region. These will include links to the metropolitan area network (MAN) planned for Monaghan as part of the Republic’s 19-town National Broadband Strategy as well as the successful bidders for a wireless broadband provider contract for the region. The successful operator will function on a basis similar to the proposed Managed Services Entity planned to manage the 19-town MAN rollout in the Republic.

Conlon said: “In Monaghan the availability of infrastructure is poor and it is all we can do to get a 1.2Mbbps broadband connection at present. That’s why we need to ensure that alternative and affordable broadband connection technologies are available for businesses in the regions and for businesses considering establishing in the region.” Conlon estimated that a further 150 new jobs may be created in the region over the next year and a half.

The A:tek and M:tek buildings, 1,400 sq metres and 2,044 sq metres respectively, both are within easy access of both Belfast and Dublin airports and have since inception fostered close ties with Queens University Belfast and Trinity College Dublin.

“We are not a telecoms company, despite all the connectivity we are driving into the region. We need to establish a professional operator, independent of the incumbent telecommunications firms, that will help aggregate demand in the region with the ultimate benefit that the AMDC will be attractive to firms setting up in Ireland, new business start-ups in the regions or firms in Dublin or Belfast looking for a new cost base,” Conlon explained.

Looking at the plans moving forward, Conlon said that although the €500,000 may not be finalised until the end of the year, the AMDC was moving to drive forward other initiatives for the region. These include pioneering e-working and hot-desking initiatives for workers in the region as well as providing start-ups in the region with better access to venture capitalist firms.

By John Kennedy