20 community wifi hubs for rural Laois

Over 16,000 Laois premises in rural wifi blackspots

20 community wifi hubs for rural Laois
By Lynda Kiernan lynda.kiernan@leinsterexpress.ie @laoisnews

Over 40 percent of Laois premises are in rural broadband blackspots, leaving people no option but to drive to find a signal.

However a new plan by Laois County Council will see 20 free wifi hubs set up in rural communities all around Laois.

The hubs are a stopgap measure, because it will take up to five years for the new national rural broadband network to be installed to reach all of the 16,280 premises that are in rural Laois.

They account for over 40 percent of all the 38,761 residential and commercial premises in the county.

Installation of the free wifi hubs will not be complete until at least mid 2018.

The council is now choosing where they will be located, to be set up in the like of halls, libraries, post offices, council offices and community centres.

When open, there will be “hot desks” for the first to get there, and when closed, people can park outside and still use the password protected wifi, to be paid by the government as part of a national broadband rollout.

Director of Services Kieran Kehoe is the new Broadband Officer.

“The larger towns are commercially viable so operators cover those, but the government is building a network to cover other areas, over the next three to five years. There will be a minimum of 30 mb/sec for every household,” he said at the September council meeting.

“You can go to these hubs if you have a critical piece of work, get the password and use the wifi. We expect this to be done within the first 12 months. I think it will be critical to rural areas in advance of the 5 year rollout. They will be open for as long as possible during the day. There has to be a good spread around the county,” he said.

“We must make sure this is accessible in rural communities. I have seen people parked up in town using the wifi in their cars,” said Cllr Willie Aird.

“It is not right to see people have to get into their car and drive to get access,” said Cllr Brendan Phelan.

“Farming communities rely on the internet for livestock identification and payments,” added Cllr Tom Mulhall.

“Three areas for hubs where there is very bad broadband are Ballinakill, Shanahoe and Ballyroan,” said Cllr Caroline Dwane.

Cllr James Kelly said 30 mb a second is fast but in a few years 100mb will be needed.

“We need to get industry into the county,” he said.

Laois County Council has been directed by Minister for rural affairs Heather Humphreys to relax planning and reduce charges to speed up the new infrastructure.

It will also have to offer training for the local rollout, with a tech consultant to spend a week in each local authority to advise them.

“Our job is to make sure there are no obstacles or barriers,” Mr Kehoe said.

With the poor broadband infrastructure in Ireland, Irish businesses are lagging behind, 43 percent less likely to trade online he said.

“This will mean they can trade online, it will create a digitally skilled workforce and improve the environment. It will make communities more connected,” Mr Kehoe said.

The National Broadband plan is due to start in July 2017. It has been compared to the rural electrification of Ireland by communications Minister Denis Naughton.

It aims to deliver broadband to 750,000 premises in rural Ireland, not covered by commercial operators.

Contractors have not yet been chosen. The service will have to be paid to the contractor by each premises.