Source: The Kerryman

Nine broadband connection hubs in Kerry are the first steps in providing broadband to all of Kerry, as part of the €3 billion National Broadband Plan, writes Sinead Kelleher

On August 16, 1858, the first message was sent via Transatlantic cable from Valentia to Heart’s Content, Newfoundland, beginning a story that would make the island off the coast of Kerry the centre of global communications for many years.

It is more than fitting therefore that Valentia has once again become a centre of communication – this time the island is leading the way in providing broadband across the county, and country.

That’s because Valentia, as part of the €3bn National Rural Broadband Plan which the government signed off on in November last year, has been selected as the location of the first of 300 community hub Broadband Connection Points (BCP), part of the Connected Communities initiative.

Valentia’s BCP selection was officially launched at the Cable Station in Knightstown on Friday, already the site of a digital hub, by Minister for Education Norma Foley and Mayor, Cllr Patrick Connor Searteen.

An online webinar to launch the initiative was itself an example of what technology and connectivity can do, with guests joining in from across the country to speak about how the rural broadband scheme will transform rural communities and finally connect them to the online world.

As part of the roll-out of the national broadband scheme over the coming years, 300 BCP’s have been identified across the country to connect communities before ultimately connecting every single home and premises to broadband in the coming years.

Nine locations in Kerry have been identified as BCPs to provide communities with wireless broadband, which in turn will be made available to the public on site.

There are two sites in Valentia – the Cable Station and Chapel town Community Centre. The remainder are in Tureencahill Community centre, Kells Bay Railway Station, Derrynane House, Saint Fiachna’s church hall, Kielduff Community Centre, Cillian Liath and Kileenagh Community Centre (Inch).

‘Three rural schools are also being connected – Black Valley, Boheeshil and Coars National Schools.

BCP sites have been prioritised for connection within the first 12 months of the roll-out of National Broadband Plan (NBP).

It is planned that the BCPs will give local people the opportunity to avail of public online services and access to government services, in addition to encouraging remote working for those affected by the current Covid 19 restrictions.

They will also facilitate online learning amid the current pandemic.

Minister Foley said that the launch of the BCPs is the first step in bringing connectivity to the whole county and country.

“The launch of the Connected Communities initiative is the culmination of a long and complex process which, whilst only one of the first deliverables of the wider National Broadband Plan, is the confirmation to rural  communities that long waited connectivity is coming”, he said.

CEO of Kerry County Council, Moira Murrell, said that given the pandemic, the advancement of technology has never been needed more, adding that it is not just about technology but about the betterment of the community.

“These connections points will bring economic and social benefits to the communities,” she said.

Valentia has already seen such benefits with five permanent users of the digital hub at the Cable Station thanks to the provision of broadband which has allowed them to set up business in Valentia and create jobs on the island. Fiona is Director of Communications at the International Foundation for Integrated Care from her base on the island having moved home from London six years ago.

Among a distinguished panel of speakers at the webinar was the CEO of National Broadband Ireland (NBI) Peter Hendrick who explained the time-line for the roll-out of the national broadband scheme in Kerry.

To date, NBI have undertaken surveys in Tralee and are now at the design stage, with plans to start works on roll-out next year.

Surveys have also begun in the Killarney area where it is also hoped to start infrastructure works next year.

‘The National Broadband Scheme is expected to cost almost €3 billion and will roll-out broadband to 544,000 nationally. In Kerry, broadband is to be rolled out to 26,775 homes, who currently have no access.

Not all are rural homes, some are in large towns like Tralee and Killarney.