Kilkenny LEADER partnership; connecting communities
Kilkenny LEADER Partnership (KLP) is supporting rural communities struggling with cripplingly slow broadband speeds and is encouraging them to consider setting up their own community owned and operated future proofed broadband networks through a series of regional workshops across County Kilkenny beginning in Freshford on Tuesday, October 25, culminating with a joint seminar in Piltown on Saturday, November 19.
It’s all designed to help local community and voluntary groups to “take charge of their digital future” as Smart Villages, in line with the EU’s evolving policies on rural areas. KLP hopes the community-owned broadband proposals will boost remote working opportunities, promote rural enterprises, make Kilkenny’s towns and villages more attractive places to live, work and raise a family, while future-proofing their area’s broadband infrastructure for generations to come.
KLP has already helped the twin villages of Piltown and Fiddown of south Kilkenny to deliver their own European award-winning ‘fibre to the premises’ (FTTP) broadband network. The entirely community owned and run Broadband 4 Our Community (B4OC) network has already started to transform how locals live, work and study. Crucially, as a non-profit company, B4OC can be more affordable than packages offered by commercial operators in equivalent areas. Its impact has been recognised with a coveted ‘Rural Inspiration Award’ from the Brussels-based European Network for Rural Development.
Profits generated locally by B40C above maintenance costs will also be ploughed back into community projects in the Piltown-Fiddown area. Work has been completed on the first group of 50 homes and businesses, which now have download speeds of at least 150 megabits per second (Mbps). When completed in 2023, the 750 homes and businesses in a 3.4 square kilometre area of Piltown & Fiddown, which is outside the National Broadband Plan (NBP) investment area, will have access to these high speeds, and a future-proofed broadband service they can afford.
Now KLP has joined forces with the successful Piltown and Fiddown group to host workshops, share their knowledge and the know-how and empower other communities across suitable broadband blackspots in Kilkenny.
The free workshops run in:
- Freshford Community Hall on Tuesday, October 25;
- Fennelly’s Bar of Callan on Wednesday, October 26;
- Kilmacow Community Centre on Tuesday, November 1;
- Gowran Parish Hall on Tuesday, November 8;
- Castlecomer Enterprise Centre on Tuesday, November 15.
Each workshop runs from 7.30pm to 9pm and all members of the community interested in benefiting from the service and helping out are strongly encouraged to attend. Pre-booking is not required. Booking for the seminar in Piltown Community Centre on Saturday, November 19, is free and can be made through www.cklp.ie
Each seminar will assist communities ‘to help themselves’ and probe if they have the interest and drive to set up similar community owned and run networks. The training will cover technical elements: network planning, financing information, as well as hands-on expertise on the practical skills involved in network creation: methods to carry the fibre optic cable, by pole and trench, to physically link up homes and businesses to the network. Following the workshops and seminar in October and November, KLP plans to provide interested communities with further help and support from tech experts to allow them to plan their future proofed network.
They are particularly targeting so-called ‘Blue Towns’; those smaller towns and villages deemed under the National Broadband Plan to have sufficient speeds. The National Broadband Plan (NBP) on the government website features a two-coloured map: amber for those area where the NBP will invest public money, and blue where the judgment, based on the EU’s 12 year old standard titled ‘Next Generation Access’ of 30 Mbps download and 10 Mbps upload, is that the existing broadband is sufficient and no investment from the NBP will be approved. This judgment of adequacy is based on a standard set 12 years ago, even though the reality on the ground now, in the era of Netflix, Zoom and Xbox gaming consoles, is far different.
The NBP by-passed areas (Blue Towns) include Urlingford, Johnstown, Freshford, Ballyragget, Castelecomer, Clogh, Moneenroe, Tullaroan, Kilmanagh, Bennettsbridge, Gowran, Paulstown, Goresbridge, Inistioge, Tullogher, Knocktopher, Mullinavat, Slieverue, Kilmacow, Mooncoin and Graiguenamanagh.
The process to support the wish of additional towns and villages to learn from Piltown and install their own community-owned broadband network is composed of a number of stages, KLP CEO, Declan Rice, explained.
“We are working with experts to help identify and prioritise communities in terms of their potential and capacity. As the process is one of ‘helping communities to help themselves’ they will need to demonstrate an appropriate sustainable scale to their community; the capacity to understand and deliver the project and be situated to allow linkage to fibre optic cable linkage to the internet.
“We’re encouraging interested small towns and villages in Kilkenny outside the National Broadband Plan investment area to attend our initial regional workshops and information sessions and we’re planning a follow-up seminar for communities who want to pursue their interest to the next stage of planning development,” he said.
B4OC Project Manager, Jim O’Brien, said they’re eager to help other communities do what they’ve done. “What we did can definitely be replicated elsewhere. In addition to Kilkenny LEADER Partnership’s initial and continued support and encouragement, we were very fortunate to get the Tomar Trust, O’Shea Farms and Blacknight on board. Their support was hugely beneficial.
“To make this work in other communities you need a steering group with a mixed skill set, time and determination. We are fortunate to have a representative body with accounting, legal, telecommunications and community-project management experience.
“Any group will also have to be prepared to burn leather – shoe leather. You need buy-in from the entire community and you need to knock on many doors if you are to run cables on poles or underground across people’s homes or land. But any group starting out on this journey will have the benefit of our experience on suppliers, components, solutions and problems you can run into along the way. We didn’t have anyone to turn to so we’re only too glad to share the experiences we’ve had and really make this work for Kilkenny and for rural Ireland.”