The lack of adequate broadband services to rural areas has become a ‘hot’ topic in recent years. While existing and new service providers offer ever higher speeds and value for money based on installation of fibre optic cable, the rural areas of Ireland – Kilkenny being no different, are getting no such offers. As both personal and small business needs grow ever more dependent on high-speed and inexpensive broadband, through Facebook, on-line ordering and marketing, etc., rural areas are becoming increasingly disadvantaged in comparison to those living and working in the cities and larger towns.

The report; ‘Commission on Economic Development of Rural Areas’ (CEDRA), chaired by ex-GAA star Pat Spillane, earlier in 2014, was just the latest to highlight the critical need for broadband. As the next LEADER programme has made broadband a priority – it is obviously a sector that will get a lot of attention.

KLP has long had a focus on the rural broadband problem and decided in August 2013 that waiting for a government-led ‘top-down’ solution was no longer an option. KLP formed Kilkenny’s Broadband Rural Action Group (K-BRAG) from a  partnership of IT technical people and community activists with an interest in the sector.

Following a good deal of research, meetings and contacts with broadband providers and developers in Ireland and elsewhere, in October 2013 a small group from K-BRAG, made the trip to Cumbria in England to meet people working on the state initiative ‘Connecting Cumbria’ and the communityled ‘Fell End Broadband’. The later project saw a small (58 premises) and very rural community by UK standards get ‘fibre to the home’ standards broadband of 330 mega-bytes per second (Mbps) download speed. The average in Kilkenny may be in the 3 to 10 Mbps!

In July KLP was also part of a LEADER delegation to a community-led rural broadband co-op in eastern Finland. Here too, a very rural (by anyone’s standards) community, with financial support from the Finnish government, had developed ‘fibre to the home’ broadband networks of a speed that would outstrip anything on offer in rural Ireland.

While the government’s National Broadband Plan to eventually provide high-speed broadband access is very welcome – KLP is not awaiting the rollout of that service. Arising from the visits and contacts with other LEADER companies in Ireland, KLP is leading an application from 12 counties to the EU’s ‘Connected Communities’ programme aimed at community broadband groups. Based on that application’s learnings, KLP is hoping to facilitate the development of a high-speed broadband service in a number of pilot areas of Kilkenny in 2015. We will be in contact with rural communities as the project develops.