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Ireland and the Internet

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You may recall I missed a blog a couple of weeks ago and I am late with this one, both for the same reason. In both cases it was because I had gone to a remote location for the weekend and was offline and out of mobile signal. What bliss it was not to have emails pestering me, not to be able to Google topics of conversation or questions arising, or check my regular social network sites. It’s a break we seldom get these days.

But it isn’t a break we want too much, do we? The world is connected now and whether we like it or not, we all want to be online.

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This is something of an issue where I live in the far South West of Ireland. In fact, it is an issue almost everywhere in Ireland beyond Dublin and the East coast. That part of the island seems to be the focus of Government, business and even the Meteorological office that almost never gets our weather right.

Internet connection everywhere else in Ireland is a joke, or it would be if it wasn’t such a tragedy for the local economy, especially in rural Ireland. Even in Dublin it is only in the last couple of years or so that it has begun to approach the quality of delivery that you can find in almost every part of any other industrialised nation in the world and quite a few of the developing nations.

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Here’s a story. I was involved in a TV series a few years ago, working remotely from home. A short film was circulated among the team. It took me 42 minutes to download it. A friend living near Dublin managed to download it in 12 minutes, another, living in the centre of the city, got it in about 6 minutes. A colleague, in Bergen, Norway, on the Arctic Circle, and several hundred kilometres from Oslo, downloaded it in 6 seconds.

This was because about fifteen years ago or maybe more, the Scandinavian countries got together and laid a 30Gb connection to every inhabited area on the whole peninsula. As a result, Sweden is now fourth, behind the USA, Japan and the UK, in games and software development.

In Ireland, the government have given responsibility for connecting most of the country to a mobile phone company. Truly. My connection at home is 10Mb, and most of the time I am lucky if it runs at more than 5Kb per second and that can drop to a few bytes. The service is provided by a local company who struggle with their supplier in Cork even to provide that much, which is transmitted to its clients on a radio signal, a kind of super wifi. If it rains or the wind is high, I lose the signal.

There is a 30Gb fibre optic connection in our local town. But wait! It was put in to service an answering service centre. The connection cannot be accessed by anyone else in the town or surrounding area (like me, for instance).

The Irish government say they want Ireland to be an IT leader in the world, and they base their hopes, as in so many things, on international corporations coming here to run their factories and software development departments, which they do mainly to save money on Corporation Tax. These companies also provide their own fibre optic connections. The previous government did lay in some fibre optic rings around the main cities in Ireland, but the connections within those cities remain pathetically poor.

Recently it was announced that as a kick-start for the ailing Irish economy the government were going to initiate a road and infrastructure building programme. I don’t know, but I would not be surprised if nowhere in their plans is an extension of the fibre optic internet network. About ten years ago I was working in Brasov in Romania, up in the Carpathian Mountains. There was a big road building programme at the time, as Romania was joining the EU and had been given some investment money to spend (as were the Irish in the last fifteen or more years). Every road built in Romania had a 30GB fibre optic line laid next to it. The result? There is a better signal in Brasov than there is in Cork.

How short-sighted, how ignorant can a government and its commentators get? There is no public outcry about this, no columnist has given it much space, if any. Not long ago, one of our leading broadcasters, with the teatime show on national radio, and usually a perspicacious woman, didn’t even know what fibre optic cable is. She was interviewing the CEO of our national telecom company, when he had just announced that there would never be a full fibre optic connection in Ireland, and we would have to rely on the old copper wire network and radio signals. I can get a better connection on a smart phone than I can on an internet connection anywhere in the West.

If there was a good connection in our part of the world, in this beautiful country, with its lovely people, lots of sights to see and places to go, we could attract a games company or a software development company, or practically any company you care to name that expects to be able to communicate via video link and fast data download with its sister and parent companies and trading partners wherever they are in the world. But even our ministers for business and communications don’t seem to be aware of the dreadful and pointless waste of talent in the country outside the Pale that would go a long way to being solved by modernising the internet, and putting in a future proof connection of say, 100Gb, a cable no thicker than a strong man’s arm, alongside all the roads they build.

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This is an employment opportunity crying out for attention. But no, we’re Irish. We build roads, we don’t do 21st Century. Yet, I still like to hope.

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