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Sushi and Broadband

ON MY SEARCH to find high-quality broadband connectivity in Ireland, I have reached an astonishing conclusion. Getting broadband in Ireland is often as simple as finding fresh sushi. Try it for yourself. Pick a place on the map of Ireland that has fresh sushi and you’re very likely to visit a place serving broadband to people living nearby. If you find a venue offering free sushi, it normally offers free internet connectivity as well. When I discovered this, I realised I might have solved Ireland’s broadband malaise. Providing high-quality, low-cost broadband access in Ireland might be as simple as establishing a chain of sushi takeaways.

I immediately set down my thoughts for Minister Eamon Ryan, along with other meandering ideas about my experience with broadband in Ireland. Like many Examiner readers, my speed of internet access has increased over the years. In fact, I can be counted as one of the householders who helped Ireland achieve a 3.19% growth rate in broadband uptake in 2006, the year I was counted as a new broadband subscriber when I moved my eircom account.

Counting people who have broadband in Ireland has become a debating exercise. Rarely a month goes by without the issue of Irish broadband uptake, Irish broadband infrastructure, or the cost of broadband in Ireland being discussed on air or during a government policy meeting. And during many of those public events, someone shouts, “lies, damn lies” when the statistics get bantered about.

So let me reduce all discussion about broadband penetration in Ireland to some simple facts. The first fact deals with sushi service. You won’t find sushi on offer down the country because there’s no demand for it. And the same for broadband in many corners of Ireland. Some people simply don’t want it and that cohort includes business travellers who seek out black spots whenever they want to switch off on holiday. If the place doesn’t want sushi, let it go.

But if you want to cover all of Ireland in broadband, just look up at the sky. If you can see the sky, you might get satellite broadband. Just know this is a fraught exercise since Ireland’s map could be covered over with 100% broadband capability if you counted the use of satellites, since nearly everyone has a clear view of the sky. But as anyone with half an hour of two-way multimedia usage across the internet knows, satellite internet is not an acceptable platform.

If you want to count mobile broadband coverage to enhance your map of Ireland’s broadband, you deviate from accepted OECD practise. The recognised statisticians do not pollinate their data with coverage maps from mobile networks, even though O2 and Vodafone do provide robust 3G internet coverage in many parts of Ireland.

Local politicians definitely subordinate the need for over-the-air broadband to community objections whenever a mobile phone mast appears in a community planning submission. It makes no sense to count access to broadband through a mobile phone since many politicians oppose the concept.

In my local town, politicians also moan when faced with diggers laying fibre optic cable. Ireland could reap handsome rewards if the government spent billions on fibre-to-the-node for its previously funded metropolitan area networks as well as turning on the fibre that goes to the pavements outside many schools. This would be recognised as a step towards future-proofing broadband in Ireland.

Future-proof broadband is fibre from start to finish. If you don’t lay the cable, you don’t get the service. Well-educated politicians know this. Those politicians should meet their local wireless broadband providers who are quietly beaming broadband to rooftops.

So what does broadband do? That’s a different discussion for another time. I need high-speed access to the internet because I use video cameras and desktop sharing to teach online. I pay for three megabits per second and often get a little better than one-third that rate. That’s because I live at the edge of town where line quality degrades with every meter stretched from the digital exchange.

When on assignment in other cities, I need broadband to keep in touch with my colleagues. I seek out hotels and restaurants with free wireless internet access and they get my business at lunches we order from the staff.

And to reiterate an important operating principle—when I find a place serving fresh sushi, I do my best to work nearby, meet up on their premises or to stay overnight in their hotel.

Published in the Technology section of the Irish Examiner, 22 February 2008.