Monday 7 August 2023

Fibre to the casa

We live remote - "can't get further from a bus-stop and still be in Leinster" - but we're not luddites and comms have been a priority from the start of our adventure up the Red Hill. When we moved on-site in July 1996 there was no water, and defo no telephone. When we called the ESB to supply electricity they deemed our pitch-pine electric poles to be a) 1st generation Shannon Scheme b) due for replacement. So we acquired for free two poles which we cut to size for everlasting fence posts. Indeed our front-gate still swings on one.  If we'd needed a totally new line, the ESB would have charged us for each pole needed to connect from the nearest existing mains line. Telecoms otoh had a flat installation / connexion fee of £130 whether that was flipping a switch in the exchange or, as for us, putting up 5 new poles striding uphill across the fields. During the interim wait, The Beloved insisted on renting by the month one of the early brick-sized mobile phones - it had an aerial!

In due course we got dial-up through Telecom Internet which morphed into Eircom all of which were expensive a woeful slow. The Boy was moaning on about our service to one of his techie city-pals but was stopped by the rebuttal "Your parents? they can see the sky?" because the Astra satellite operated by SES (Société Européenne des Satellites), launched in December 1988, would solve any connectivity problems in the EU.  Eventually we settled into a cozy relationship with whose mast on Knockmore at the end of the valley worked fine; so long as the receiver was hanging in a West-facing upstairs window frame. Once, I went to their shop to complain about a minor glitch in service and the spotty youth suggested that I there-and-then cancel our existing €60/mo contract and start a new one with twice the GB allowance for €31.50! It's been fine ever since. I think they announced unilaterally that they were giving us unlimited broadband access.

Telephone has been a whole other world of pain.  A decade ago we switched from Eircom to Digiweb because a) they were offering a cheaper package b) Eircom had a terrible reputation for customer service: folks would schedule a whole lunch break to call the Eircom help-line aka listen to Greensleeves. We were the last house on the copper wire which looped along through the roadside hedges from the Enniscorthy exchange. Herons or over-loaded tractors would carry away a section of the 20 km line; we'd call Digiweb; they'd try to blame us . . . and then call Eir(com) who still owned all the lines; we were told to expect resumed service within 5 working days. It was never 2 working days and was often a bit over 5. Digiweb knew this was acceptable ineptitude because everyone had a mobile phone anyway. Then we took our lightning strike last Christmas and nothing was ever right again. We had the engineers out 4 times in 2023, they would announce that's fixed and depart. One dogged tech spent 2½ hours on site, including 45 minutes up the pole, trying to work out what was wrong. The phone was out for more days than it was in.

Because our internet was good enough, we didn't pay any attention to the National Broadband Scheme; first announced Ta-RAAAA by Minister Pat Rabbitte in 2012. Broadband is a highly competitive, lucrative market in cities. Out along the byways and bogs of rural Ireland? not so much interest from commercial companies. The contract to delive the last mile of connectivity to every Eircode in the country is vested in the quango NBI which subcontracts the cable-pulling to other companies, like Circet. But I can't talk direct to Circet, I have to first choose an ISP, who orders Circet to deliver the signal to our home. There are 29 separate companies offering Bband in the country. That's enough options to ensure we did nothing because bogged by choice BBC. But our neighbour sold his soul to Vodafone one of the 29, professed himself delirah and told the Vodafone sales-rep to call up to us. It was like pushing at an open door because their deal would include landline phone as well as interwebroadband - for the same money as we were paying Three for just the wireless broadband.  We too drank the Vodafone kool-aid and a few weeks later Circet sent out a surveyor to count the poles between our gaff and the county road.

Same surveyor came back exactly a month later because having input our data into the Circet computer, it was promptly corrupted and set to brrrrrrrrrr. More photos of the poles with a GPS coordinated iPad, more chat about how useless and feck-free were desk-jockeys in head office; another promise that a technical engineer would be out within two weeks. 

But this time, the engineer pulled into our yard three working days later. He unloaded a 500m drum of fibre optic cable, a hammer, some staples&ties and a ladder and set to work. Wouldn't accept a cup of tea or an ice-cream. 3hr40m later he'd strung the cable, cleated it round the soffit, down the wall and through a new 10mm hole in the 500mm thick granite wall at the back of the house. Inside it was all connected to a modem and a wifi router and they were plugged into the electric and we were good to go. The broadband started as soon as I typed in the pswd and it took just 24 hours for the phone number to switch providers. So now we've joined the 21stC! Streeeeeeeming!

Note: My Circet gossources claim that NBI bills you&me the taxpayer, through the government, €700 for every pole they place. more that 1.5 million will be required - heck we would have needed five just for our one house. So that's €1 billion give or take just for the poles. The Poles taking GPS pictures of poles and more Poles pulling the cable and making the connexions and all those desk-people losing input data they are estimated to drain another €4 billion. Bonkers fills in some detail including the super-sketchy 2017 tendering process.

Policy choice: this centre-right government would rather fork over €5bn so that rural folk can watch Netflix like their town-dwelling pals and buy a lorra stuff without leaving the kitchen table. That's good for the economy. Using the same money to build 10,000 €500K social-housing homes? not so much. But I'm sure you could talk to Vodafone about getting broadband installed in your cardboard city favela out near the airport at Knock.

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