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Schull broadband firm criticises Dept over lack of ‘essential provider’ clarity

April 1st, 2020 10:05 PM

By Siobhan Cronin

Brendan and Jane Hurley of Digitalforge have been connecting new customers, many of whom have moved to their holiday homes in West Cork to ‘self-isolate’. (Photo: Emma Jervis)

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A WEST Cork broadband provider has expressed their disgust at the lack of response to their plea to be considered an essential service provider, in the event of a total shutdown.

Brendan Hurley of Schull-based Digitalforge told The Southern Star that he sent a letter to both the Department of Communications and the Minister last week but has yet to receive a response.

‘We need to know if we can be allowed to continue if there is a total lockdown, but they don’t even recognise us. We haven’t even had a reply,’ he said.

The firm which has subscribers across West Cork – many who cannot get any other form of broadband service – has seen an almost 10% increase in subscribers since the start of the Covid-19 crisis.

‘I am one of 50 independent companies that provide similar fixed wireless broadbant services to rural Ireland. In my opinion we are the unsung heroes out there providing broadband,’ he said.

‘Our customers certainly feel that what we do is extremely important,’ agreed office manager Jane Hurley. ‘But we don’t know if we are going to be allowed to continue if there is a lockdown.’

If the company isn’t considered an essential service then their repair engineers wouldn’t be able to attend residential customers and their staff wouldn’t be able to work from the office in Schull, explained Jane.

Jane also revealed that a lot of their new subscribers are people with holiday homes in West Cork who have moved down from Dublin and Cork cities to ‘self-isolate’ or ‘work from home’.

‘Some of these people never had broadband in these houses before,’ she explained, ‘or they just found they needed greater speeds.’

‘We have spent the last three days installing broadband into holiday homes so that people can self-isolate in West Cork.  They have made a financial commitment that allows them work from here. We expect that having done it once, they will return to do it again in the future when this crisis has passed,’ Brendan pointed out.

Brendan also explained that some of their customers who were having issues with connecting with their offices had initially thought the problem was their broadband provider. ‘We always work at just about 40% of our capacity – so the extra demand is not an issue for us,’ he said. ‘But in some cases we have had to educate our customers because a lot of their employers’ systems weren’t set up to cope with all these people working from home. Where they may have been able to accommodate about 10 people working from home, now these systems are having to cope with 50 or more.’

Jane also explained that Digitalforge is now finding that while their demand was spaced throughout the day ‘with a mum or dad usually only logging on at night’, now the whole family is using their broadband right throughout the day.

‘Our system is well able to deal with that, but what is more urgent now is that we get communication from the Department. Some of our customers are very isolated and some are essential workers themselves. It would be nice to get some kind of recognition.’

‘The Department of Communications is ignoring companies like Digitalforge and have complete disregard for the services we offer,’ added Brendan.

‘They don’t consider what we do now and have done for the last 16 years sufficiently meets their criteria for service and are happily going about putting us out of business without compensation. Yet right here, right now, we are the ones facilitating thousands of people across West Cork to self-isolate and work.’

Magnet Networks, also has many customers in West Cork. They say they are confident that they can supply high quality service to users, despite any rise in demand.

‘Many of our business customers have dedicated internet access, which means that their lines are uncontended and connectivity will not be affected by surges in demand,’ said marketing director Louise McKeown. ‘The Magnet remote working app has reported a massive increase in enquiries from people who now have to work from home, but whose businesses need continuity.

‘In locations such as West Cork, we have seen an increase in sales of Broadband Anywhere – a new mobile technology product which allows people with low speeds to significantly upgrade their connectivity,’ she added.

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