THE ‘Digital Divide’ has become a growing concern because while urban areas grow and prosper, rural areas fall behind without high speed broadband connections.
Rural communities have highlighted the difficulties to authorities and have stressed the need for sufficient digital resources in order to grow and prosper is this technological climate. “High speed broadband is not a luxury these days, instead it is essential for everyday life” states Wayne O’Sullivan Chairperson of Beara/Bantry Young Fine Gael and local activist. Investment into connectivity has become a main point of conversation for small West Cork towns and villages, acknowledging the benefits that public broadband can provide. Realisation that digital resources can be a means of:
attracting visitors and tourists to small towns such as Castletownbere and Bantry,
increased spending in our local communities and,
increases in number of jobs available within local businesses
Wayne O’Sullivan has called on authorities to develop and provide high speed broadband connections in Bantry and Castletownbere public community areas. With over €120 million been committed to the Wifi4EU Scheme between 2017 and 2019, granted on a ‘first-come, first-serve basis’, he insists that the local council apply for the scheme promptly and give local businesses an opportunity to boost tourism and job supply. “From personal experience, and many would agree, when connected to public Wifi in an unfamiliar town or city, you are given a wide range of services and amenities close to your location e.g. Restaurants, B&B’s, Cafe’s etc.at any given time.” By offering public wifi in public spaces to tourists, it would be another step forward in making Bantry and the Beara Peninsula more attractive and tourist-friendly while also providing jobs for young people during the summer months and more opportunities for people to open prosperous businesses.
This important infrastructure has been tested in similar areas to Bantry and Castletownbere and has proven to be a success. Skibbereen for example is an exception to the rule within West Cork and has become a hub at the centre of a local digital push. The West Cork town hosted Ireland’s second National Digital Week in 2016 which promoted the Ludgate Hub. This initiative showcases what is possible for small towns if proper connectivity is achieved. “By providing digital infrastructure, we want to provide young people with the opportunity to stay at home and not emigrate after college. We want to give young people every opportunity to stay and work at home and the power is in local authorities hands that choose to do nothing about this. With access to digital resources and industries, it is no longer a prerequisite of success to be based in a cities”
Now, more than ever, increasing opportunities in rural areas is so important and needs to be the centre of our attention. For people that still don’t have access to high speed broadband, in 2017, is no longer acceptable. As we watch local towns and cities strive far ahead, we must take action and demand that we get the same level of resources. We should not be left behind because of our geographic location and population. Rural areas play a huge part in Irelands future.