How long will it take to give Ennis a digital facelift so that the town is wired to the world for all available digital technologies? After its historic victory in the Information Age Town competition, this is the question currently being grappled with by many locals and quite a number of Telecom Eireann engineers.
Judging by recent comments made by a number of very senior Telecom Eireann executives, including the organisationís chief executive, it is quite clear that the company intends to give the process of getting Ennis completely wired to itself and the world a very high priority. However , because of the sheer size of the undertaking and the huge amount of money being spent on it, some sources estimate that it could take up to three years to have Ennis completely wired and operating as an Information Age town.
As it won the Information Age Town competition, Ennis will receive a £15 million investment from Telecom Eireann. This investment will materialise in a number of ways, including:
The first part of the project-installing a telephone with digital voicemail in every home - is already under way and, within a short time, all homes in Ennis should have these digital voicemail services. Judging from recent public comments, Telecom Eireann believe many of the other aspects of the project - particularly getting a personal computer linked to the Internet into the majority of homes in Ennis - will get under way early in 1998.
At the press conference minutes after Ennis had been announced as Irelandís Information Age Town, Telecom Eireannís chief executive, Alfie Kane, talked eagerly about getting project managers from Ennis and Telecom into meetings "as soon as possible" and repeated the phrase "this project should roll-out quickly" on three occasions.
"We have to make sure," he said "that everyone in Ennis has a phone with access to a smart voice box. We have to get personal computers into peopleís homes - I imagine that, in the end, about 80 per cent of households in Ennis will take up the offer of getting PCs under this project.
"Already, for example, we have had discussions with all the large PC providers in the state about the PC options open to us for this project. We have also had a number of offers from Information Age providers and we would like to try a number of experiments. We must lead the way towards the Information Age. We want to move quickly on this project in Ennis."
Mr Kane also said that, along the way, certain aspects of the project might turn out to be failures. "We must monitor the project al the way and learn lessons from it. However, I envisage completion of this programme within a three-year time-frame."
When asked at another press conference the following morning about possible start dates for work on the Information Age project, Gerry OíSullivan, head of corporate relations at Telecom Eireann, said: "I think we are going to have some very early meetings with the people involved with this in Ennis. As a matter of priority, we will be appointing programme managers from our side and these will interface with their counterparts in Ennis from a very early stage."
Mr OíSullivan also said Telecom are "very keen to see the technology deployed so we can start assessing how itís impacting on peopleís lives" and, as a result, "roll-out the benefits of this nationwide".
"Very early in 1998," he said, "we hope to start deploying the PCs. The training aspect - so that the locals know how to use all this technology and get the maximum benefits from it - is obviously very important for the people of Ennis. We must help to better the townís Information Age awareness - although this has been done substantially of late. We plan to make information about all the relevant services available at a number of centres around the town."
"We intend," says Alfie Kane, "to blanket Ennis with all the communications tools of the Information Age. This will make Ennis a showplace where people will be able to see the future happening right now. We believe that a live environment will act as a test-bed for the range of new technologies and business that will transform all our lives in the 21st century."