A while back I was asked four questions by a journalist for a story on PC Penetration and Internet Access. Below are the questions and my answers to them. I think some of these answers were in the Indo though they were edited down. The below answers are a bit of a rant
1. Despite the Government’s best efforts to project Ireland’s image as the Silicon Valley of Europe, PC penetration in Ireland stands at only 42pc compared with Sweden 56pc and the US at 82pc. What efforts should the Irish Government, Irish businesses and Irish citizens make to boost PC penetration?
In every other developed nation a PC is a multi-use product. It is there for doing administrative tasks, entertainment and most importantly communicating. What is the point of buying a PC in Ireland if all it becomes is an expensive word processor or aid to doing your accounts?
With the likes of broadband, PCs are used for tuning into radio and TV stations from all over the world, for talking to people in America or China using VOIP, for updating blogs, for downloading software that will make you do your work more efficiently, for connecting to the office from home and accessing all your documents and working on them over the Net. Why buy a sports car when you’re restricted to winding down the windows in your drive because the normal roads are too narrow to drive down or the nice and wide toll roads cost more per year to use than the car? That’s what Irish people have to deal with. Large unavailability of broadband and dialup rates prohibitively expensive.
It isn’t like Irish people are luddites or are afraid of technology. We don’t fear the beige or black boxes under the desk. In Ireland X-Box and Playstation ownership per head of population is one of the highest in the world. We love our mobiles and are addicted to texting. We’d love our computers too and use them a lot more if we could make full use of them but we can’t because of connectivity.
The government needs to make Internet Access affordable and available so that people can get value for money out of their pcs. At this stage too the Government should consider creating incentives for purchasing PCs but unless connectivity is also resolved they will only be used to gather dust.
Irish Businesses should train all staff on PC usage and if possible encourage teleworking. They should also continue making noise about Internet costs and availability like both the Chambers of Commerce and ISME have been
2. At 37pc (according to ComReg’ most recent Trends Survey) Ireland’s internet penetration hasn’t increased in the past two years. In terms of broadband, Eurostat has claimed that Ireland has a penetration rate of 1.7pc compared with the European average of 12pc. What should/could be done to resolve this?
While broadband uptake is increasing, Internet usage is staying the same. This seems to suggest that we are not encouraging new people to use the Internet but merely converting dialup Internet users into broadband Internet users. This is quite worrying and would suggest that we are going to hit a brick wall soon where broadband uptake will just cease. We need to get more people using the net and this means making it useful for them, making it available to them and making it affordable.
I think we find ourselves in a chicken in an egg situation. The PC penetration rate is blamed for the low Internet access rate when it could actually be the other way around as I previously mentioned.
We need to make Internet access cheaper. IrelandOffline wants to see per minute dialup banned and replaced with flatrate dialup products. We want people to enjoy going online via dialup or broadband and the always-on, flatfee model that most broadband products offer is the way to go for dialup and broadband.
Remove the fear of unknown and potentially massive Internet bills and more people will go online and stay online and as a result will quickly start finding new potential uses for the Net that they didn’t know about before. Every Net user could potentially be an ambassador for the Internet and could be used to ecnourage other Irish people to go online.
All government services should be offered online. We have some good E-Government initiatives like the CAO website, the Motor Tax website and the Revenue website. There are 100s more services that could be offered to Irish Citizens. Online billing should also be the norm for any service and not just government services.
Companies could help here too by allowing personal online time for employees, encouraging them to become proficient at using the net which could encourage them to get the Internet at home.
3. How damaging could low PC and broadband penetration be for Ireland’s long term competitiveness?
We are being lapped when it comes to broadband usage and Internet usage. Already we are seeing a lot of customer service jobs being lost to countries like India. As technology advances and more and more services and jobs can be done via a net connection and a broadband connection we could see an exodus of other jobs going to cheaper countries. Wait until China comes online with a billion very educated people and who are highly skilled in computers and Internet usage. We still have the potential to restart our Knowledge Economy but if we leave it much later we’ll just be fighting for the scraps that China and India throw us.
4. Does a digital divide exist in Ireland and if so in what areas? How can such a digital divide be bridged?
There’s a digital divide in the UK according to their own Government reports and they are one of the leading countries when it comes to PC usage, E-Government and broadband availability. We had a divide before the rest of the developed world sped away from us, now we have an ever-widening Digital Chasm.
The gap between the haves and the have nots when it comes to Internet Access is widening. Some 80% of Internet users in Ireland are still using dialup. The average cost of Internet access before line-rental is around €Â€36 according to ComReg.
180 hours of dialup costs Â€€26.99 a month and 3 euros an hour thereafter and the same ISP can now provide always-on 1mb broadband to their customers for €20 a month. So those who can get broadband are now finding it getting cheaper and cheaper and speeds are increasing but those unable to get it and lets be clear, some are guaranteed to never get it unless they move to an urban area, those consumers are stuck with dialup speeds which are awful and the cost of these products have remained unchanged for years. We have asked the regulator to look into a reduction in the costs of wholesale flatrate but they do not seem to think there is a need.
We need to lower the barriers to entry so that costs do not scare people away from the digital world and we also need to make the digital world available to all.
The model to look at for this is Estonia. A 2nd world country that in a few years became the shining light in Europe when it came to ICT usage.
See this powerpoint presentation from an Estonian consultant:
As of end of 2004:
* PC penetration 68%
* Internet penetration 54%
* 100% of schools connected
* 100% of public sector connected
* 80% of all businesses connected
* 729 PIAP (Public Internet Access Points)
If we want to be serious about having a knowledge economy then we need to build the infrastructure for one and it really isn’t rocket science at this stage. We’ve been spending billions on roads to deflect traffic away from the big cities yet 1000s move to these cities to work and set up business when they could be doing it from home. If we spent a fraction of what is spent on roads ever year to make teleworking a genuine possibility in this country then we could achieve the ambitions of those that dream with open eyes.
“the dreamers of the day are dangerous men, for they may act their dream with open eyes, and make it possible” – T. E. Lawrence