Digital

Digital for everyone?

fibre optic blue green Richard Halleron considers the Government’s National Broadband Plan and the critique from rural dwellers who doubt whether the roll-out will be nation-wide.

How can every Irish citizen and business benefit from digital? That was the question asked – and up to a point answered – by Communications Minister Pat Rabbitte TD when he launched the Government’s latest National Digital Strategy, courtesy of an event held in Trinity College Dublin. The initiative, entitled ‘Doing More with Digital’, commits the Government to paving the way for a future which guarantees country-wide broadband access while, at the same time, encouraging the greater use of e-commerce within the business sector as a whole.

“My ultimate goal,” he stated, “is the optimal economic and social use of the internet by business, government and individuals. In the National Broadband Plan, which I published last August, I set out how we would put the necessary infrastructure in place. The National Digital Strategy will establish a framework to maximise the potential of this investment.

“I also want to see more people and businesses avail of those opportunities. For some, that may mean engaging with the internet for the first time. For others, it may mean doing more through channels the internet facilitates,” Pat Rabbitte confirmed.

Digital contributes 4.4 per cent to Ireland’s GDP. In fact, the digital part of the economy in Ireland is growing at 16 per cent per year – that is more than 10 times the rate of growth of the economy as a whole. Digital already supports almost 95,000 jobs both directly and indirectly in the Irish economy.

The specific measures which the new digital strategy commits to implementing over the next two years can be grouped under a number of headings:

• cross-government initiatives;

• trading online and entrepreneurship; and

• citizen engagement and education and learning.

Specific targets within the strategy include the attainment of 10,000 Irish businesses coming online for the first time and to achieve a further 2,000 small Irish businesses trading online over a period of two years. This will be facilitated by a €2,500 e-voucher scheme, which will be managed by local enterprise offices. Recipient businesses will be expected to match this funding commitment from the Government.

At the present time, only 23 per cent of Irish companies carry out transactions online.

The new digital plan also envisages the utilisation of ICT to its full potential across the education system, including the use of the internet in learning. In addition, the eGovernment Strategy, recently published by the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform, aims to further facilitate the use of technology and, in so doing, improve service delivery to customers of government services.

Pat Rabbitte remarked: “I want to see more people and businesses avail of the opportunities, which the adoption of digital technologies will create.

“For some that may mean engaging with the internet for the first time. For others, it may mean doing more through channels the internet facilitates. This first phase of the National Digital Strategy therefore focuses on ‘doing more with digital’. It sets out a vision, and a number of practical actions and steps to encourage and assist more people and more small businesses to do more online.”

But, of course, all of this will be underpinned by the provision of an efficient, nation-wide, broadband service. Twelve months ago, Minister Rabbitte launched a new National Broadband Plan for Ireland, envisaging a state investment of €175 million. The strategy details measures to facilitate the delivery of broadband speeds of between 70-100 megabits per second (Mbps) on a commercial basis, to approximately 50 per cent of the population by 2015. The plan also announced the Government’s intention to develop an intervention to deliver minimum speeds of between

30-40Mbps to the other 50 per cent of the population which would not be achieved on a commercial basis, thus ensuring that minimum levels of high speed broadband services are accessible to all. Implementation of this plan will see Ireland doing more than meeting the targets set down by the European Commission in the ‘Digital Agenda for Europe’.

Significantly, Minister Rabbitte is now promising the attainment of full broadband coverage by 2016. The attainment of this target should be facilitated by a broadband mapping project, which was announced at the beginning of July.

Portrait of Minister Pat Rabbitte for Eolas Magazine. Community mapping

Launching the mapping exercise, Minister Rabbitte said that the information gleaned will be needed to develop maps identifying those areas which will be served with fast broadband speeds by private operators and those areas where intervention by government will be necessary to deliver the speeds required by the National Broadband Plan.

He added: “We will work our way through a map of Ireland, community by community, to see which streets and roads, which towns and villages will be offered fast broadband by the commercial operators and, as a result to spot the gaps that we need to fill with state- supported investment”.

However, recent comments made by Pat Rabbitte – to the effect that the commitment made by government to deliver minimum broadband speeds of 30Mbps in rural areas is not set in stone – have caused outrage amongst community leaders in many parts of the country. A case in point is the anger expressed by Fine Gael TD for Galway East Paul Connaughton.

“If we are to avoid a digital divide, every effort must be made to ensure that broadband provision is provided across the country,” he said. “Special efforts must be made to accommodate prospective employers in terms of ensuring broadband availability where jobs are proposed.”

Ballinasloe-based EasyFix designs and supplies a range of high quality rubber based products, developed to improve animal welfare standards within the international livestock and equine sectors.

“Anything that can be done to improve the broadband service in our area is to be welcomed,” the company’s sales manager, PJ Burke, told eolas.

“We are continuously sending and receiving highly detailed product designs and building lay-outs online. This process could be speeded up dramatically if the Government delivers on its commitment to ensure a 30Mbps broadband service in rural areas.”

The plan is available at www.dcenr.gov.ie/communications

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