Task forces from the 46 towns that initially contested Telecom Éireann's Information Age Town competition spent thousands of working hours in their submissions. As the stakes for each town were so high, competition was intense. By last July, however, the judges had shortlisted four towns - Ennis, Castlebar, Kilkenny and Killarney - for the final stage of the competition.
Throughout the summer, task forces from each of these four towns began developing and enhancing their submission proposals. In some cases, summer holidays were abandoned as meetings were held to get the public and private sector on board.
Three of the four shortlisted task force groups opened cyber cafes in their towns. A fourth group used an existing cyber cafe to disseminate information and create awareness about the project. These cafes, which had access to the Internet, e-mail, networked computers and printers, offered a relaxed environment for people to exchange opinions about the best way to proceed and become familiar with some of the technologies involved. Views and ideas were canvassed from many quarters as the race intensified to become the State's Information Age town.
After a brief speech where she called for the tools of the Information society to be brought to as many people as possible, the Minister for Public Enterprise, MS O'Rourke, announced that Ennis had won the competition and, to put it mildly, the table where the Ennis delegation were sitting erupted.
However, prior to the announcement of the winner, Telecom Éireann's chief executive, Alfie Kane, was at pains to point out that all the participating towns - but particularly the other three shortlisted ones - were going to benefit from a package of investment, so as to maintain and stimulate their interest and involvement in the Information Age. Mr Kane, said this additional investment, - costing Telecom Eireann in the regin of £5 million-was being made because of the huge responce and interest that the competition had created.
Castlebar, Killarney and Kilkenny will each benefit from an investment of £1 million in their information technology infrastructure. It is hoped that this investment will enable these town to continue to develop some of there projects that were outlined in their submissions to the Information Age competition jury.
"I want to," says Alfie Kane, "congratulate Ennis on their tremendous achievements, but I also want to commend the short listed towns who put together outstanding and highly professional presentation to the assessment panel. We are delighted to be in a position to assist these towns in making some of their Information Age Town proposals become a reality.
We have put together a package of measures to assist all the 46 towns who participated in this project to connect to the Information Age. We know that, as a result of their brilliant efforts, a momentum has been unleashed in these towns and we are committed to building on this in a way that harnesses the huge enthusiasm and knowledge gained so far,"
To begin with, Telecom Éireann plans to establish what it calls "Information Age Town alliance". This will be a forum where the ongoing results from the Ennis project can be shared with the other 46 towns that participated in the competition. Under this forum, it is hoped that the town can work as a team to pursue specific agreed initiatives, like securing EU support and integrated multi-media delivery of public services.
Telecom also announced that it plans to develop "Information Age community access centres" in the 46 towns that competed. These centres will be equipped with multi-media PCs that have Internet access.
In addition, Telecom also plans to set up an "Information Age Town Intranet" to allow the 46 towns to be in exclusive contact with each other and have communications with one another on developments in the Information Age.