BETTERING OUR BROADBAND

20 February 2015 No Comments by The Northern Standard

The assertion by Monaghan Municipal District Cathaoirleach Sean Conlon on Monday that 10,000 jobs could be created in this county overnight if rural broadband services were brought up to prevailing standards was an attention-grabbing comment.

The headline worthiness of such statements when local politicians make them are sometimes perceived as being their inherent motivation, but in this instance we are moved to credit the Sinn Féin representative with a worthier motive.

Colr Conlon was making a very important point – and while the putative jobs figure he cited was notional, there is no doubt that economic development, and the associated social benefits, in rural Co Monaghan would be conferred with significant growth potential if the frustrating patchiness and unreliability of broadband coverage and functioning that currently blights us was removed.

As was evident from the presentation made by Mr Paul Treanor of Monaghan Co Council’s IT section to Monday’s meeting – which our other Municipal Districts have also recently received – solving this problem will not be easy.

One Government Rural Broadband Scheme has come and gone with only partial alleviation of the problem in some areas of our county. Another ambitious Government scheme of expenditure – €500 million over five years – is promised with the goal of bringing 30 mb broadband to every household in the country by 2020.

Mr Treanor was not confident that this target would be met in the given timescale, and respect for his expert perspective is reinforced when one considers the disseminated nature of our rural population and the particular topographical challenges that the lay of our Irish land presents to the effective provision of the necessary infrastructure.

It is also not yet clear how the Government funding is to be disbursed – if it is rolled out in the manner of its predecessors, the latest scheme will probably not yield the maximum return for the projected investment, and what Mr Treanor termed the “fragmented” manner of delivery of rural broadband services in our countryside thus far will persist in diminished but still significant form.

Yet the scheme might be the best chance of our county’s rural broadband deficiencies being alleviated. The concentration for commercial reasons by private providers on larger centres of population is likely to persist, leaving rural communities reliant on State initiatives or the riskier and potentially very costly strategy of going it alone and trying to attract interest from the commercial operators to deliver packages geared to the specific economic and social needs of small population catchment locations.

One way the new scheme could work effectively is if responsibility for its delivery was vested in the country’s 31 local authorities.

This would reinforce the new role given to Monaghan Co Council and its kindred bodies to foster economic and community development – and would give some practical outworking experience to the Public Participation Networks now being established to work in close communion with the local authority to enhance the social fabric.

Work being conducted by this county’s IT forum to identify the broadband needs of the industrial and commercial sector is well advanced, and when complete would provide a framework through which expenditure in the areas of greatest need could be pinpointed to a much more accurate extent than if the promised new investment was being directed from some central government eyrie.

Now is the time for bodies like the City and Co Managers’ Association and the Association of Irish Local Government (of which our own Monaghan Co Council Cathaoirleach Pádraig McNally is national president) to lobby energetically for the delivery of the new scheme to be vested in our local authorities. And the cause could be helped by the influence that can be exerted at Cabinet by rural-based Ministers such as our own Deputy Heather Humphreys.

The new programme of investment must be locally delivered for the broadband deficit in our rural areas to be effectively addressed – hopefully Monaghan Co Council will be to the fore in trying to secure this role.

And maximising the benefits of the broadband services available in our towns would be a useful province of investigation for our Municipal Districts.

The potential of the Metropolitan Area Network that is available in four of our five towns is not being tapped to the maximum by urban businesses, with the current cost factor apparently the prevailing disincentive.

As was suggested during Monday’s debate, it is probably true that in a great many cases accessing this service has been considered by particular businesses but deferred or rejected because of their level of need or the investment restrictions that the economic downturn has imposed upon them. Yet there are probably also a good number of businesses insufficiently aware of the MAN’s ready availability and applicability to their sphere of functioning. An information campaign targeted at the commercial sector in our towns could be a useful and beneficial project for our Municipal Districts to engage in – and should certainly be incorporated in the new retail strategy being evolved for Monaghan Town.

Whether it yields such a bounteous jobs return as 10,000 or not, bettering our broadband is absolutely vital to the balanced economic development of our county – and if local knowledge, expertise and established community networks are used as the primary vehicles of delivery, the ambitious target being set by the Government for its latest scheme of investment in this area will have a much better change of being met.

 

JAKE’S LAW

 

The campaign by the parents of six-year-old Kilkenny boy Jake Brennan who lost his life in a road accident for speed limits in housing estates to be significantly reduced has moved the nation – and this week appeared to move the Government into acquiescence to having already tabled relevant legislation amended to accommodate the campaign’s goal of limiting speeds in estates to 20 kph.

What has become known as “Jake’s Law” is a laudable initiative – but, as was evident from a debate at Monaghan Municipal District this week, the delivery of its intent faces significant practical impediments that the Government, in its first gesture of legislative address at least, don’t appear to have taken significant cognisance of.

Laws are only effective when they can be enforced – and the existing onerous road traffic policing responsibilities conferred on our Gardaí, and the reduced numbers of their personnel over recent times, present an obvious impediment in this regard.

Significant cost factors, the community disquiet that often surfaces over the placement of traffic ramps in housing estates, and whether private estates not in local authority control fall within the ambit of the new proposals were all important issues of practical consideration identified by the Monaghan MD members this week – and they have to be seriously addressed by the Government before what is a praiseworthy intent has any realistic hope of being effective.

Ideally, of course, it should not require ramps or enforcement to stop people driving at reckless speeds through housing estates – the risk posed to children in particular should be sufficient deterrent.

But our estates have in recent times become places of escalating traffic pollution. Parking problems now proliferate in virtually every residential location in the country because of the growth of the two- and even three-car family, leading to a level of traffic flow their design was never meant to accommodate as well as potential for neighbourly strife and the ever-present nightmare scenario of a child dashing out from behind a car parked on the street into the path of an oncoming vehicle.

Our planning authorities should give serious consideration in making the approval of designs for future housing developments of both local authority and private origin dependent on the provision of a substantial communal car-parking space that residents are required to use, and prohibiting the parking of vehicles on the public street entirely.

Such measures might guarantee the safety of our children much more effectively that the Government’s current worthy but ill-thought-through response to the “Jake’s Law” campaign.

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