Rural broadband an issue on the doorsteps

One Mullingar secretary has to sit on the bonnet of a car in Forest Park to get internet coverage, and a father who is studying online has to stay two hours late in work because he has no broadband at home - these were the stories told at this week’s April meeting of Westmeath County Council.

Fine Gael councillor Frank McDermott said it is one of the four issues being raised on doorsteps in the Mullingar-Coole electoral area, and he spoke of people who have to drive from Finnea to Castlepollard to hook into the internet.

When he was chairman of Westmeath County Council 10 years ago, millions were spent installing fibre power broadband, but the current situation is “disastrous” he said, while describing the scenario in Forest Park industrial estate.

Cllr Avril Whitney agreed that it’s one of the biggest issues being raised with her, because the lack of broadband has huge implications for rural people.

“With so many young people abroad, mothers and fathers are trying to Skype,” she said and added that others need to study online to reskill to get jobs.

“It’s hugely problematic,” she said, describing a man in her area with a very young family who stays back for two hours after work each day to study because he has no broadband at home.

She was one of a number of councillors who welcomed Government plans to spend €500m on rural broadband, but along with her Fianna Fail colleague Aidan Davitt, she called for a clear timeline.

“We’re encouraging local business [in rural areas] but it can’t be done,” she said.

Labour councillor Denis Leonard agreed, saying rural Westmeath is bereft of broadband.

“Distance learning needs high speeds,” he said, adding that people have to travel up to 20 miles to towns for internet connections if they don’t have home broadband access.

But Cllr John Shaw (FF ) said he was concerned that lack of broadband will deter people from settling in the area.

“Quality and access to broadband is an issue when people are choosing where to live,” he said.

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