Digital divide hitting home during covid crisis

FERMANAGH families are being left behind in both education and the workplace during the Covid crisis due to the ever increasing “digital divide” in the county.
With so many local people working from home, and third level students now getting to grips with remote learning, having decent broadband connection is more important than ever. However, for many across the county, particularly in rural areas, finding affordable broadband with
workable speeds is still proving impossible.
The issue was raised by Cllr Ann-Marie Donnelly at the September meeting of the Council, in response to news the Minister for the Economy, Diane Dodds, had declined to meet with councillors to discuss Project Stratum.
The project was set up to provide broadband in rural areas but now that is almost at the roll-out stage many postcode areas here in Fermanagh have been left out of the scheme.
Cllr Bernice Swift agreed with Cllr Donnelly and said she was very disappointed the Minister was not willing to meet with the councillors.
Pointing out in our neighbouring counties of Cavan, Leitrim, and Donegal residents were being offered speeds of up to 150mg as part of the South’s national broadband scheme, she said “we need to getting into first gear on this, we need to future proof.”
“We need to be in the 21st century. Ultrafast broadband is going to be crucial for all aspects of life and business.
“We don’t want to see our rural areas disenfranchised and disadvantaged.”
Cllr Thomas O’Reilly questioned why, in a time when the world has turned to online video conferencing, why the Minister is once again declining to meet the councillors, even online.
Cllr O’Reilly said the lack of rural broadband was hitting poorer families hardest: “Broadband would be some help to allow those families to connect in and therefore not be left behind in the increasing digital divide and to be able to make sure that these children have equal opportunities to do the best they can in the education system.”

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