The local community in Piltown and Fiddown, Co. Kilkenny is Ireland’s first to build its own fibre-to-the-premises (FTTP) broadband network as locals were adamant they would not be left behind in the National Broadband Plan.

People in the community and the voluntary not-for-profit Broadband 4 Our Community (B4OC) group made history connecting fist homes and businesses in the area to the broadband network.

B4OC project manager, Jim O’Brien said that the two localities are part of around 20 similar-sized villages in the county that are classified on an EU standard as having “adequate broadband”.

Therefore, they are not included for investment under the National Broadband Plan, he added.

A total of 750 homes and businesses in a 3.4 square km2 area will have access to at least 150MB and a high-speed broadband service which people own, run and they can afford, the group said.

Broadband network project

Technical assistance along with planning, training and capital funding was provided to the community by the Kilkenny Leader Partnership (KLP) and its funding partner, the Tomar Trust.

Through their funding, the Piltown Community Enterprise (PCE) established a committee to investigate the viability of the project and carried out a study to establish ways and means to build the FTTP network.

Recalling the process of the project, O’Brien commented:

“My own father-in-law is a retired fitter and he has been out in the trenches and up poles with me as we built the infrastructure – all of this has been built on private lands and sits into the landscape.”

He added that the financial support from local businesses and the wider community has been incredible. Phase one of the project is now completed, O’Brien confirmed, but a few phases remain to go now.

Pictured is Jim O’Brien along with Paul Walsh, Declan Rice and home-owner Vernon Buckley and Kate Foley of Iverk Produce. Image source: Dylan Vaughan

B4OC chairman, Brian Doyle explained that laying fibre-optic cable is expensive thus using the future-proofed FTTP model employed by the telecommunications industry was the only option. He added:

“This is a service by the community, for the community which is owned by the community and run in its interest. It is a much leaner development model and operates on a not-for-profit community-owned basis.”

Doyle also said that doing it mostly themselves meant that costs were greatly reduced and that they hope to pay a community dividend, which would be used to finance other community projects.

CEO of KLP, Declan Rice stated that “installing FTTP networks is not rocket science, in many ways it’s easier than installing a group water scheme”.

Rice explained that a fibre network requires some financial capital to get started, and also wider landowner and community cooperation. “Piltown-Fiddown has shown it can be done,” he added.

The successful community project does not have to be the exception, the CEO said, instead it should be a pioneer. “By developing and crucially retaining ownership of the fibre network, a community takes charge of its digital future,” Rice commented.

Local impact and ‘community spirit’

The project ensures that local businesses and small to medium-sized enterprises have the broadband service and infrastructure they need, O’Brien explained.

Kate Foley who works in the office at Iverk Produce, one of the largest suppliers of fruit and vegetables in Ireland, said:

“Quality broadband is critical for a business like ours and this service will make this area far more attractive for everyone. Since we were hooked up, we haven’t dropped connection once and have found it 100% reliable”.

Hundreds of families who previously struggled with speeds between 1MB and 6MB, the project manager added, also have the fibre power they need to work and study from their home in rural Ireland.

Living in the local community, Vernon Buckley commented that he works from home and the project has been “transformative”.

“There were times previously when I couldn’t even send an email. Now I’m videoconferencing with students based all over the country several days a week.

B4OC board members; secretary Mary Morgan; Gerri Hickey; treasurer Jill Downey; chairman Brian Doyle and Paul Walsh

“The community spirit and the volunteerism that made this project happen is simply incredible,” he added.