Analysis: Broadband shambles is keeping rural economy on the back foot

Even though I’m only 40km north of O’Connell Street in Dublin city centre, I also experience firsthand some of the handicaps that are keeping the rural economy on the hind teat. The debacle that it is the rollout of the national broadband network is a case in point. Earlier this month I got an email from my internet provider to inform me that we had breached the 60Gb limit on the dongle in the house by 20Gb and a surcharge of EUR933 would be applied on top of my regular monthly bill of EUR35.

I was gobsmacked. Cue some pretty curt exchanges with the two ladies in my life – my wife and her 18-year-old Kiwi niece that has moved in with us for a couple of months. This wasn’t the first time that I had been hit with a data surcharge.

Because some lazy engineer overlooked the cul-de-sac that I live on, the broadband speed available through the landline is actually lower than that available through the dongle. So we are totally reliant on dongles for internet coverage. For the last number of years I have continuously cranked up the monthly allowance and, of course, consequent payment to cover the increasing amount of daily living that has drifted online.

I thought we had learned all the pitfalls: that you can opt for lower quality streaming on Netflix that doesn’t use as much data; that every hour of streaming video is about 1G of data; that downloading programmes is better done on somebody else’s Wi-Fi with unlimited data! But we never had to factor in a teenager into the equation, and data for today’s teenager is what TV was for my generation – just a given, and preferably in copious quantities. There is no warning from the phone company.

Unlike the text that will be sent to your phone if you are going over your monthly limit, mobile phone companies refuse to send any automated message regarding data usage on a dongle to the owner’s phone… refuse until they realise that you’ve used up the equivalent of two year’s dongle fees in a single month. I queried this with the ComReg, and a pleasant man in their call centre informed me that this was standard practice for mobile phone operators. Needless to say I was livid.

Annoyed that our household has let it happen. But more annoyed that a company that I pay about EUR3,000 a year to in phone and internet charges would have the gall to saddle me with such punitive charges. After pleading my case I was told that the best they could do was halve the surcharge.

I didn’t know whether to feel grateful or annoyed. If we had gone out 12 months ago and bought a ready-to-go SIM card with unlimited data for EUR20 a month, we would never have had this problem. Would that have been gaming the system?

If we lived in a town or city we would have had hi-speed internet at an affordable price coming out of a socket in the wall for years. Instead, I’m supposed to feel grateful that I ‘only’ paid EUR500 for my December internet service. All because we live in the country and play by the rules.

And then the politicians wonder why there’s still a two-speed economy.

Glyphosate back on the agenda

The glyphosate saga is back on the parliamentary radar this week. MEPs will today decide on the membership and mandate for a special committee to look at how the weedkiller came to be renewed for use in the EU. The new committee will also look more broadly at the bloc’s authorisation procedure for pesticides – which sees active ingredients approved at EU level, while national authorities are responsible for waving through the final product.

A World Health Organisation panel had said glyphosate was “probably carcinogenic”. The EU’s chemicals and food safety agencies said it was unlikely to cause cancer in humans, allowing EU countries to renew the chemical’s marketing licence for five years. Glyphosate is the active ingredient in Monsanto’s Roundup, the world’s most used herbicide.

In a resolution voted on in October, MEPs said leaked emails from Monsanto scientists cast doubt on the credibility of some studies used in the EU’s glyphosate safety assessment. They also called for the phasing out of all uses of glyphosate by the end of 2022.

Commission issues Brexit agri warning

The EU has warned it will impose “mandatory border checks” on foods of animal origin imported from the UK, if there is no Brexit deal. The European Commission warned food producers to prepare for a hard Brexit.

It said businesses should prepare themselves for the “legal repercussions, which need t

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