Rural Ireland is about to be catapulted into the internet age with high-speed broadband as fast as any of the cities, thanks to a joint EU and government investment.
The Irish approach, designed to bring the country from being one of the EU’s laggards to being a top performer, was a model for the rest of Europe according to regional policy commissioner Corina Cretu.
The effect of the development was spelt out by Agriculture Commissioner Phil Hogan, who painted a picture of the farmhouse of the future with the agri-business entrepreneur managing her exports, her husband Skyping the bank manager, and their daughter studying online, while another family member receives specialist telemedicine care from specialists.
Over the next five years, €75m from the EU will be matched by state funds for broadband that should increase the number of rural homes linked to fast internet from the current low of 8%.
While next-generation access coverage in the country is now at 71%, private sector providers are slow to invest in remote and less well-populated areas, and the public funding will be directed at filling this void.
However, having broadband is not enough, said Ms Cretu. She praised the fact strategies such as the National Broadband Plan and the National Digital Strategy are already in place to exploit the economic and social potential of the new infrastructure.
EU money from the Social Fund and from the Agricultural Fund for Rural Development will be available for training people to make the best use of fast internet, especially to create jobs and boost business. There will also be substantial funds to help micro-enterprises through the Local Enterprise Office network. “All this should allow Ireland to reap the potential benefits of an ever more dynamic and digitally-based economy,” Ms Cretu told stakeholders in Dublin.
“My message today is that Ireland is approaching the whole issue of broadband roll-out, in a consistent and reassuring way.
“In doing so, Ireland provides an approach and road map that can be of real use to other member states,” she added.
Mr Hogan said fast internet access will be a key driver in the agri-food sector in the future and will provide small and medium-sized business opportunities to areas, irrespective of how remote.
IFA secretary general Pat Smith said high-speed broadband would be a game changer for rural Ireland, providing opportunities for people to live and work anywhere and facilitate the development of sustainable export-driven businesses across the country.
The IFA would hold the Government to account on their promises, he said.
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