Internet seems to be a standard necessity in a majority of households in Ireland, and the world. Yet there are still many who live in rural areas across the country, where broadband is not available. How can this be in the year 2017?
It was reported months back that areas in up to 15 counties have yet to gain access to what most see as an equivalent of oxygen. It is estimated that over 615,000 people are still left without internet access. Are they falling behind as the rest of us speed ahead in this technological world?
The facts and figures:
According to the Central Statistics office, 87% of Irish households reported having internet access in their homes last year. This means the remaining 13% are left without. That's a whopping 615,290 people! It must be said that 38% (233,810) of those who don't have it don't need it, whilst some would be too young. This still leaves 381,480 people who don't have internet, whether they can use it or not.
Surely this is bound to have an effect on the education of rural youths also. Schools and colleges around the country have started using Tablets and technology more extensively to help with learning. In fact some primary and secondary schools have started making it mandatory to have an I-Pad at the start of their educations there. This surely means that some rural schools will be left falling behind.
Of all the people who reported to not having internet access, according to the Central Statistics Office, with 40% of people reporting to not having the skills to use it. This suggests that already some of the population (246,116) are lagging behind the rest of us. Are they just forgotten? How are farmers without these skills supposed to complete items such as the Basic Payment Scheme which are soon to be completed only online?
A digital divide has been created between rural and urban Ireland. Internet is seen now as a standard commodity for the everyday business. How do rural businesses keep up? How can they compete with other businesses able to advertise themselves online on various different social platforms? The truth is they don't, as they can't. Businesses in Rural Ireland have already been facing hardship since the recession, with many having to shut their doors. One doesn't have to research this, simply drive through a country village. It's time for the Commission for Communications Regulation to step up their game, and make internet not just a privilege, but a standard practice.
Is there anything being done?
Various politicians and lobbying groups have been persistently voicing their concerns. But from my experience on the road driving through the countryside, it's clear nothing is done as of yet. Even sending a simple Snapchat or Facebook message is a chore to say the least.
The EU have recently announced plans for a new "Wifi4EU" scheme, which is estimated to be budgeted in the region of €120 million. The aim is to provide up to 8,000 new free public Wi-Fi hotspots in areas lacking all across Europe. Though this is a step in the right direction, no definitive date has yet been given and it is hard to know how much of an impact it would have on rural Ireland.
To deprive people of internet in this day and age is like the deprivation of a person's right, it's almost in a way affecting a person's right to a full and proper education.
Rural Ireland has suffered long enough, now is the time to think of the forgotten ones left in the dark ages. Can't we all share this technological world together?