A gem of Ireland’s picturesque west coast, the county of Clare is best known for its stunning movie locations and its breath-taking natural landscapes. From the iconic UNESCO Burren and Cliffs of Moher Geopark to historic towns full of character, the county provides an exciting variety of activities and attractions all year round. The WiFi4EU voucher from the European Commission comes as a perfect complement to the County Council’s digital policies, aimed at connecting communities and improving tourism in the area.
Clare County Council is responsible for the administrative area of County Clare and is among the 59 Irish local authorities that secured a grant under the first call of the WiFi4EU programme which took place in November last year. Anthony Whelan, Director of DG CONNECT Directorate B, Electronic Communications Networks & Services and a native of County Clare, sat down with Urban McMahon, Broadband Officer of Clare County Council, seeking to know more about the Council’s experience with high-quality digital services and their plan to implement the WiFi4EU network.
The Irish Department of Rural and Community Development has been a great promoter of the WiFi4EU initiative and announced it will match the funding provided by the European Commission, thereby doubling the value of the voucher. In the last few years, the Irish Government has defined a National Broadband Plan (NBP) which aims at guaranteeing that all citizens and businesses have access to a modern and reliable broadband network. According to McMahon, the WiFi4EU initiative complements well the Clare digital strategy by promoting wireless access to internet by citizens and visitors in public places while on the move: “the deployment of [free Wi-Fi hotspots] is definitely the first step in allowing everyone access to infrastructure and services”.
Building on the national and local strategy, the county of Clare deployed a first Wi-Fi network in the town of Ennis. Home to 26,000 people, Ennis is the county seat and major regional hub. On busy days, around 1000 subscribers take advantage of its free Wi-Fi service, explained the Broadband officer. Clare County Council now plans to leverage the WiFi4EU voucher to cover other key places across the county, and expand the network in its capital. The new hotspots will be placed in tourism centres and markets, with the goal of finding a balance between services for citizens and tourism services.
“The deployment of Wi-Fi in […] tourist centres is seen as a critical element to our tourism strategy”, reveals McMahon. The County Council hopes to bring Wi-Fi to the world-famous Cliffs of Moher to enhance the cliff’s experience through digital services, making it more accessible and opening up new ways to enjoy the cultural and environmental heritage of Clare. The network will also enable to gain deeper insight into tourists’ footfall and habits, allowing data-driven improvement to provide a service tailored around tourists’ needs while fully respecting personal data.