Minister Ring announces innovative project to provide broadband to disadvantaged students

Collaborative project involves Department and Libraries working with Microsoft Ireland to explore the use of Airband technology

Mr Michael Ring TD, Minister for Rural and Community Development, today (Thursday, 25 June) launched an exploratory initiative in partnership with Microsoft Ireland and the Local Government Management Agency (LGMA) that will seek to deliver free broadband to second-level students from disadvantaged backgrounds for the duration of their senior cycle.

The initiative will look to use the existing high-speed broadband connection in five public libraries across five counties (Carlow, Donegal, Kilkenny, Mayo and Waterford), to deploy Microsoft’s cutting-edge Rural Airband technology to enable broadband to be delivered to up to 200 households – roughly 40 per county – which do not have good internet access.

The trial initiative will be targeted primarily at students in Delivering Equality of Opportunity (DEIS) schools.

Announcing the initiative, Minister Ring said:

“This initiative is an example of the kind of innovative solutions that can be explored when Government, Local Government and industry work collaboratively to address connectivity and other barriers experienced by disadvantaged communities across rural Ireland.

“Under this initiative, my Department has partnered with Microsoft Ireland, Local Government and others, to ensure that many students for whom vital internet services is unavailable in the home have the opportunity to compete on a level digital playing field and succeed.

“This pilot initiative will use the public library network to deploy Microsoft Airband technology in under-served areas, in order to address connectivity barriers experienced by Leaving Certificate cycle students. In drawing on the existing high-speed broadband connection of libraries, the initiative offers an opportunity to target individuals for whom internet service is currently unavailable in the home.

“This initiative will seek to offer more students the opportunity to avail of a range of distance learning activities, such as online learning and virtual classrooms, which are becoming an integral part of education provision in an increasingly digital age.”

Welcoming the initiative, Microsoft Ireland Managing Director, Cathriona Hallahan said:

“As Ireland increasingly becomes a digital society it is critically important that no citizen and no community is left behind. Connectivity is central to ensuring equal access and equal opportunity for all and that is why we are delighted to partner with the government to use our innovative TV White Space solution to help senior cycle students in rural communities get access to learning resources. Over 20 years ago, Microsoft worked with local government to bring internet access to libraries in Ireland for the first time. This opened up the world to library users throughout the country and we are delighted that this initiative again leverages the strength of the library network and are confident that this pilot with the LGMA will prove to be equally as transformative.

“With so much focus on connectivity at a European level, and with particular challenges facing rural communities, I am delighted that Ireland is taking a leadership position on connectivity challenges, which I know will be a top priority at EU level in the coming years.”

The Airband initiative will supplement existing supports to address broadband connectivity deficits, by exploring the capacity to use the local library network as a conduit for household connectivity for the first time.  The initiative will be reviewed on a 6-monthly basis, and learning from the pilot will help the Department of Rural and Community Development and the Local Government Management Agency to determine the effectiveness and potential scalability of using Airband as a connectivity solution for households with students in particularly hard to reach locations.

Tom Enright, Chief Executive of Wexford Co. Council and Chair of the Libraries Development Committee said:

“Libraries are all about access and equality so we’re delighted to work with Microsoft Ireland, schools and families on this project that will test a new way of providing much-needed reliable broadband to students as they prepare for their senior cycle. This initiative really demonstrates the reach and impact libraries can have, finding new ways to do things, breaking down barriers, and delivering equality of opportunity. We hope to learn from this pilot project to deliver more interventions to support students and others in future.”