Pirate SignalNet

Pirate SignalnetThere is a pirate internet service provider covering a small section of south county Leitrim since 2004. It’s called Pirate SignalNet and is a free service once you get the receiver box and mount it as high as possible. I was told about it not long after I moved here and 2 years later when I moved into my own house in 2007 I called a number for them and was given an old receiver box (which has a sticker of the logo as shown). The amount of people using the service is limited to the amount of programmed receiver boxes available. Since then I have been getting more or less uninterrupted (it does go down from time to time) and unlimited broadband. It’s not always the quickest service either, as it depends on how many people are using it at one time, and you never quite know if it will still be there the next day but after 7 years it is still going strong for me.  I was always curious to know more about how it worked and who set it up so asked around and learnt a few facts. In 2003 there was already a legitimate line of sight internet service provider, SignalNet, which was set up by a local businessman.  At the time this was the only alternative to a broadband line from Eircom which was more expensive and unavailable to many rural areas such as this. About a year later, an American guy in his thirties called Andy moved to Leitrim. He was a computer expert who needed an internet connection for his job. He was a (somewhat) reformed hacker who was now working for internet security companies by trying to hack into systems of their clients and then telling them how he did it. He was probably doing a lot more than this but that was what he told the people he lived with. He was definitely being paid huge sums of money from someone or somewhere and was ultra paranoid and you could say was almost hiding out in Leitrim at that time. Where he lived was very rural and didn’t even have a phone connection at the time. He didn’t want to register his name with anyone so spoke with the owner of SignalNet to see what he could do for him. Basically it turned out the company needed some technical help and he did it for them and they gave him a box to go online for free in return. Within a year however they went out of business and rather than change provider (and to stop his friends losing their connection) he bought some of their equipment for a knockdown price and managed to keep a limited service going (he did not buy any of the booster transmitters they had dotted around the county but did pick up every receiver box they had). He must have also figured out a way to get free bandwidth from whomever they had been buying it from as no one lost their connection and the people who stuck with the system (that lived close to where the remaining transmitter was) have never had to pay again. It’s not known how many for sure are still using it today, maybe just over 100 (some use it as a back-up as regular broadband is now faster and it won’t support 3 or 4G), as many would have changed provider once the company folded or if the box broke or they needed other technical assistance. When Andy left a year later he explained the system to the people he was living with, which was basically don’t plug out this box. The transmitter was powered by a gel battery which was hooked up to a solar panel for recharging and this does need some attention from time to time. He left them a server as well with similar instructions and a password. Not many people know where the transmitter is (it’s had to be moved a number of times) but the server (said to be at the back of a wardrobe) now hosts many, mostly Leitrim based, websites for free and is more than likely doing other things for Andy to operate online wherever he is now based.  (Stephen Rennicks)

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