BETTER BROADBAND A MUST!

11 September 2015 No Comments by The Northern Standard

We have had much good economic news in our county in recent times that encourages the sense of tentative but steady progression out of the turbulent maelstrom of recession.

Developments such as Combi-Lift’s ambitious plans for expansion and job creation, and the acquisition by the Cavan Monaghan Education and Training Board of the provision of important traineeship and apprenticeship programmes, are strong indicators of a brighter future for our county, one in which job opportunities will be locally available to the emerging generations of young people in a manner commensurate with their ambitions and academic attainments.

The positivity must be modified with a degree of regret that thus far no visible progress has been made by the relevant statutory and Government agencies to address the grievous blow delivered to the south of our county by the closure of the Bose plant – the area’s attentive and energetic local public representatives of all political hues, and the community interests supporting them, deserve much more in terms of response than they have so far received, and it is to be hoped that their commitment to keeping this issue a live one will eventually win the sort of response that will compensate the Carrickmacross area and its surrounds for the economic and social blow it has suffered at the hands of globalisation.

But all efforts to improve the environment in our county for business expansion, and indeed many forms of social and educational progress, continue to be hampered by the inadequacy of the broadband services available to us.

This issue was again raised at Monday’s meeting of Monaghan Co Council, when the lobbying efforts of the local authority drew a very detailed and positively toned response directly from the desk of Minister for Communications, Energy and Natural Resources Alex White TD.

This outlined in considerable detail the efforts being made through both schemes being pursued by commercial providers and the Government’s own new National Broadband Scheme to address the broadband deficit, and held out the promise that an additional 31,000 premises in Monaghan would eventually come to enjoy next generation broadband services thanks to the combined efforts of State and commerce.

All very encouraging – except, as Sinn Féin councillor Brian McKenna sagely observed, we have been down this road many times before.

There has been a succession of Government and business initiatives in the past decade all promising to bring equity of coverage to the country. Each has fallen short of their reach, and what has been achieved is a degree of patchwork progress where the quality of services can not only vary considerably from county to county and town to town, but from parish to parish and townland to townland.

Perhaps the thinking animating the approach taken to the problem so far that if enough schemes are conceived and launched, eventually all the blank spaces in the patchwork pattern will eventually be filled in. This would be a rather inefficient way of addressing the issue and an inadequate one for several reasons – people need good quality broadband now, and this is an area where technology is never static: what is good and efficient today is very shortly outmoded and passé.

It must be acknowledged that creating a national network of broadband coverage that is state of the art and tailored to the diverse needs of businesses and households is beset with practical obstacles.

These are particularly visible in a county such as Monaghan, which has a significant portion of its population disseminated in rural hinterlands, and a large number of businesses operating in similar locales. Our drumlin terrain is a conundrum that defies even the most flexible of technological solutions, and the division of our population into small village and community clusters is unattractive to the commercial motivations of the private providers.

We have editorially argued before for a fundamental change of approach by the Government to the delivery of its broadband initiatives – an approach that starts from the bottom up, going into local community areas to identify needs and specific business demands, and allowing local stakeholders input into practical solutions to address them.

This would be a much wiser and cost efficient way of expending the huge amount of money that recent Governments have devoted to the broadband issue. Co Monaghan would prove an excellent testing group for a pilot scheme if the wisdom of the approach is not yet evident – we have the community cohesion and co-ordinated local authority and civic partnerships to make it work, and we have a crying out need for better broadband if our ambitions for our county and our emerging generation of young people are to be met.

Perhaps the funding made available to our Municipal Districts for community enhancement projects could serve to seed the idea, and demonstrate to the Government that where better broadband is concerned, small is undoubtedly better.

 A PIVOTAL CONTRIBUTION

The relatively short tenure of Mr Eugene Cummins as Chief Executive of Monaghan Co Council is in contrast to the significance of the impact he made in his important local authority role.

Mr Cummins took up his post in Monaghan in January 2014 at a crucial time in the history of Irish local government, and steered its Monaghan structures through a time of unprecedented change with a steady hand and a face firmly set towards a progressive future course.

While insufficient time has elapsed to conclusively determine whether the reforms he had responsibility for implementing have produced a superior or inferior model of service delivery to its predecessor, Mr Cummins’ oversight undoubtedly made the transition period a great deal easier and more seamless than it might have been.

His commitment to the objectives of the reforms, and his vision for the future of the county, has given our Co Council a determined focus on the new responsibilities it has in the area of community co-operation and economic development.

His comments at Monday’s meeting of Monaghan Co Council, when deserved tributes were paid to him prior to his imminent departure to take up the Chief Executive post of Roscommon Co Council, showed that his time here had made a deep impression upon him.

Mr Cummins was taken by the calibre and character of our people, the entrepreneurial spirit animating our economic life and the important dividend we were reaping from peace after the ravages of our recently troubled border past.

It is sometimes good to see ourselves as others see us – and how others come to perceive us in the future has been considerably enhanced by the legacy the departing Chief Executive has left us.

 

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