Castlebar Information Age Town Projects

This page contains a list of the major projects and their objectives for the Castlebar Information Age town project.

Introduction
The Information Age Town Committee was responsible for the disbursement of the Information Age Prize. The strict requirements, rules and regulations laid down by eircom were adhered to and money was only spent where it was allowed by the competition specifications. At times this was frustrating, as there was a definite tendency for eircom to require that the money be spent on eircom products and services. In the early stages for example, eircom staff described how they would scan photographs for the Castlebar website and put them up on the Internet for the people of Castlebar!

The committee took the view that, where possible, the money should be spent in Castlebar rather than on outside consultants. It was felt necessary to develop expertise within the town if it was to benefit from the 'Information Age' or the 'Knowledge Economy' as it is now known.

Developing hi-tech Internet expertise would spin off and help to underpin new employment, local business opportunities in Internet and e-commerce, for example. A wide ranging agenda drew up projects under headings such as business, social and community, educational and Internet skills. In virtually every case the projects were cross-linked so that there were wide-ranging benefits to the town of Castlebar.

The initial enthusiasm for the project when thousands of people gathered on the Mall for the visit of the competition judges was well placed. The enthusiasm continues today 10 years later in the massive support for the town website (typically 3.5 million hits per month).

Business sector

Castlebar digital park
To develop a digital park that will make Castlebar an attractive place for high technology companies to set up shop. (The Ansabach and Cedar Data Building on the Moneen Road were the first tangible result of this with an estimated 300 jobs for Castlebar. The Knxus call-centre also occupied the same building which we believe would never have existed without the stimulus of the initial investment in consultants who sourced clients.

ISDN support package for businesses
To give a competitive advantage to businesses in Castlebar by providing a subsidy scheme for ISDN installation. ISDN was the equivalent of broadband back in 1997/1978.

Springboard location
A sum of 15,000 was spent upgrading the old telephone exchange in Castlebar which was used as a springboard location for companies looking for a quick start in Castlebar. The Cedar group have already used this while their purpose built permanent location was being constructed on the Moneen Road across the road from Baxter.

Web Hosting
A local town web-hosting service was developed including e-commerce facilities allowing Castlebar businesses to sell their products online.

Community sector

Computers to voluntary clubs
Firstly, to provide computers for voluntary clubs and to develop IT interaction with local communities. Secondly, to give local sporting and leisure clubs the means to advertise their activities and display their fixtures and results online and to make the content of Castlebar's website reflect the actual make up of the town. Overall, the aim here is to educate club members in the actual use of the World Wide Web. A large number of organisations established web sites on the Castlebar server system and many continue to this day to update webpages online.

Computers at home
To provide subsidised computers in homes and to further develop IT education and interaction in the community. A large number of computers were purchased in Castlebar under this scheme. Computer literacy was seen as vital for the economic future of Castlebar and helping people to buy their own computers was seen by the committee and by eircom as a key element of the project.

Computers to voluntary associations
To provide computers to voluntary associations and to develop IT interaction locally. To give Castlebar associations the means to advertise their activities and display their information online and secondly to use this information to let Castlebar's website reflect the actual make up of the town. Thursday evening classes for clubs were held in the community access centre on Spencer Street.

Youth information project
To provide two information kiosks: one in the youth information office, and a mobile unit which will move around various centres. The kiosks will allow young people to access information on youth rights and more. A second objective here was to extend the project so that anyone can access the information on the Castlebar website.

Community access centre
To provide a visible community access centre in a friendly central location so that the citizens of Castlebar can have free access to the Internet and to e-mail. The eight computers online were heavily used on a daily basis. This was in the days before Internet cafes. The funding helped to introduce people to the Internet and its advantages who would not otherwise have been able to afford it.

Leveraging Further Community Funding
The Community Access centre allowed the Chamber of Commerce to leverage further funding from the Government CAIT Project which provided a highly successful project using sophisticated computer aided instruction software with a view to upskilling those who were not lucky enough to have access to computers and computer skills at home.

Education sector

Distance learning programme for the disabled
To provide access to computer skills for people with disabilities who live in remote areas and are unable to avail of normal training because of mobility or transport problems.

PC and Internet training for households
Every person and organisation that receives a computer or subsidy under the PC scheme will receive basic training on that PC, as well as Internet training to enable them to access the Castlebar Internet site. To this end self-instruction software was available for a nominal rent repayable when the disks were returned.

ECDL training for townspeople
The objective here is to make European Computer Driving Licence training courses available for all townspeople so that as many people as possible can obtain the ECDL qualification. Castlebar accounted for a disproportionately high number of ECDL certificates nationwide at some 4% of the national total in the early stages of the ECDL. This was one of the big successes of the project and Castlebar school students and school leavers had an early advantage as a result. Today (2004) most progressive companies and state bodies require all of their staff to take an ECDL certificate.

GMIT co-operation project
To work together with the Galway Mayo Institute of Technology (GMIT) to participate in a joint Information Age project.

ECDL exams for secondary schools
Funding has been made available to cover the cost of sitting the ECDL exam for two years by the transition year students in the three secondary schools.

Castlebar national schools project
Funds have been set aside for investment in projects in this sector. See for example St. Patricks National School and the Education Pages of the Castlebar website.

Developing Internet Skills and Opportunities

Castlebar town server
Setting-up and developing a Castlebar Internet server network to develop Internet skills and opportunities within the town. The server network was actually established within Castlebar itself so that state-of-the art Internet skills could be developed within the town - as opposed to merely handing the money back to consultants in order to provide a fraction of the same services. Experience was obtained and staff were trained on the job to run Mail servers, website hosting, DNS nameservers, e-commerce applications plus multimedia streaming of radio audio and video were just some of the skills developed.

These skills have allowed those employed during the period of the project to subsequently take on jobs in multinationals, local authorities and educational institutes - at the time first hand knowledge of real-world server applications was a rare commodity as most people have never seen a webserver.

Webserver Network Continues Today
Unfortunately the costs of broadband Internet access were still extremely high by International standards by the end of the project. These costs precluded the continuation of the project after the initial eircom funding phase (this coincided with the bursting of the dotcom bubble too and companies became reluctant to trust e-commerce). Rather than shut the project down once eircom funding ceased, a suitably skilled company based in Castlebar was sought to continue the hosting and email services. Expertise and software was transferred before the key server project staff left for other employments at the end of their contracts. Modata Ltd. now run the Castlebar Server Network and have continued to develop it beyond the initial specification providing vital Internet services for many local companies. Modata has upgraded the servers and moved them to a co-location facility. The expertise and client base developed during the project has thus provided a commercial boost to a local company.

Castlebar.ie Website
The Castlebar website which had started in 1997, developed exponentially folllowing the start of the project providing gigabytes of capacity for photographs, video and radio streaming of CRCfm community radio. This was only possible due to the availability of hands-on access to server network computers that were located in the Castlebar Chamber of Commerce Offices. The website built up from the expertise gained during the project continues today on a voluntary basis and is still being updated daily 365 days a year. It is unique in that it is the only small town website to have over 3.5 million hits per month. This would not have happened if the committee had decided that it was sufficient to simply allowed eircom staff to scan photographs and organise the site for the people of Castlebar. The skills acquired have been put to good use and one of the main aims of the Information Age Project has been fulfilled in a manner which still benefits Castlebar today - in terms of community, tourism and commercial investment and business needs.

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