Farmers without broadband file DARD returns on supermarket wi-fi

Larne councillor Mark McKinty, Scott McClelland of Bluebox Broadband, Assemblyman Roy Beggs Jnr and Dominic Kearns of Onwave at the meeting in Gleno. INLT 10-606-CON
Larne councillor Mark McKinty, Scott McClelland of Bluebox Broadband, Assemblyman Roy Beggs Jnr and Dominic Kearns of Onwave at the meeting in Gleno. INLT 10-606-CON
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LACK of broadband coverage and the removal of the Larne DARD office to Mallusk has resulted in some local farmers using wi-fi hotspots in local supermarkets.

The difficulties facing the rural community were highlighted at a meeting on Friday in Gleno Valley Young Farmers’ Hall. East Antrim MLA Roy Beggs Jnr, who organised the event, welcomed around 45 people keen to learn about alternative means of accessing broadband.”

Mr Beggs said he had been pursuing the issue of lack of reliable availability in rural East Antrim for a number of years.

The Ulster Unionist Assemblyman added: “I am very well aware of fixed-line broadband black spots between Gleno, Carrickfergus and Ballynure. Whilst improved broadband services have been promised by Government, many people in this and similar rural and even semi-rural locations remain isolated.

“Northern Ireland was meant to be first region in Europe to have 100 per cent access to high-speed internet. That has been an empty promise for those of you who are too far from an exchange to get ADSL broadband. Speaking from personal experience, some of the customer service failures from broadband providers have been appalling.”

Mr Beggs explained: “ADSL broadband is a distance-dependent service and as such the service is dictated by the laws of physics in that the broadband signal is pushed down the line from the telephone exchange and will either work or not, depending on the distance of the line.”

The MLA introduced Scott McClelland, managing director of Bluebox Broadband, and owner of North West Electronics. NWE Wireless Networks recently succeeded with an application to the Department Enterprise Trade and Investment’s Northern Ireland Broadband Fund. The application included an extensive expansion of the WiMAX wireless Network in rural areas, including around Larne.

Mr McClelland explained his company’s line-of-sight wireless broadband, which means that each household must have a broadband antenna with an unobstructed view to an NWE broadband mast.

Dominic Kearns, Northern Ireland regional sales representative for satellite broadband provider Onwave, outlined his company’s system. Onwave has been awarded the rural broadband services contract to provide broadband to rural homes and businesses in Northern Ireland that cannot be accessed via telephone lines. This contract is a key element of the UK Department of Enterprise, Trade and Investment’s continued commitment to provide 100 per cent broadband coverage in Northern Ireland.

Ian McMaw of the College of Agriculture, Food and Rural Enterprise Information Technology team also presented and illustrated the online services that are available for farmers.

Mr Beggs told the meeting: “Broadband is becoming increasingly important to local farm businesses and has become more essential following the closure of the Larne DARD office. There are increasing opportunities to complete returns on-line. I have been told that some farmers have resorted to using wi-fi hotspots in supermarket car parks rather than having to drive to the nearest office in Mallusk.”

Speaking after the meeting, Mr Beggs said: “I felt that it was really important to update the local community about the current situation and to allow them to learn more about newly available technologies and to question the alternative broadband providers. I was pleased that Bluebox and Onwave explained their services in detail and took questions from a lively and engaged audience. I think the importance of this issue was illustrated when one of the presenters indicated to me that he had never received such a high level of interest at any similar gathering.”