One of the most important economic and social challenges facing the county is to extend broadband to all rural areas.
After my most recent meeting with the Minister it is clear that the rollout of the National Broadband Plan is a legal and logistical minefield and has yet again been pushed out, with no date in sight for commencement.
10,427 workers in Laois are commuting from the county every day for work.
No doubt this figure has risen since the data was produced.
These are people spending many hours every week on train, bus or sitting in the middle of growing traffic jams, making any ‘work/life balance’ impossible.
Rollout of broadband throughout the County will bring many benefits.
It creates job opportunities in rural Laois and improves the quality of life for commuting workers, meaning more home and family time.
It saves workers weekly commuting costs and reduces our greenhouse gas emissions with less transport use.
All this results in more money in the local economy, and more involvement in the local community.
Average broadband speeds in Laois are less than half that of Dublin.
There are 21,143 households and premises serviced commercially in mainly urban areas of the county.
A further 5,063 in Laois will be connected under a commercial scheme by Eir but there are 12,721 rural premises and households still left where the government need to intervene with subsidies.
These are now in limbo regarding connectivity.
Additional rollout of the 5,063 is welcome but the initiative from government through Eir could be seen as cherry-picking of “easier to reach households” generally in clustered groups or villages.
What of the remaining 12,721 homes?
Many people across Laois are now without basic mobile and broadband connection and where available, it is simply too slow.
The Eir project will leave out large parts of the Sliabh Blooms, Sliabh Margy, the villages of Ballaghmore and Vicarstown and large tracts of the countryside.
Broadband alone will not create jobs, but accelerating the rollout is central to job creation policy.
Without the basic services that exist in Dublin how can we offer an alternative to Dublin?
Can work from home options be realistic or businesses established if they cannot properly connect to the outside world?
Successive governments failed to deal with our unsatisfactory communications network.
From mobile phone licence sales under the then Fine Gael Minister, Micheal Lowry, to the disastrous sale of Eircom by Fianna Fáil’s Mary O’Rourke, up to the present ever slow rollout of broadband, there have been many failed chapters to this story.
Government parties must realise that the economy needs to develop outside of Dublin.
The Government committed to have the contract for the National Broadband Scheme awarded for early 2017.
Disappointingly, yet another delay has been announced recently and neither the Minister nor his officials can give even an indicative date for the contract to be signed.
In reality this means that it will be many years before work even begins to connecting 540,000 rural people.
Unlike Ireland, many of Europe’s telecom companies are partly state owned.
Ideally the infrastructure should be in State hands as with the electricity network.
But what is required is rural Ireland getting a broadband connection that is a basic service in other parts of the country.
Sinn Féin want Broadband access fast tracked so that people can get the service that they need and deserve.
Brian Stanley TD. Spokesperson on Communications, Climate Change & Natural Resources