Catholic Web Surfing – The Internet, Irish Style

The Irish National pastime of feeling guilty is now spreading to Internet access. Never mind broadband, the majority of the Irish population still goes online using dialup and ISDN. Not only do most of us Irish have to experience the ear gashing sounds and sharp squeals of our modems to get us there, but once we get online we feel bad. The land of dialup always feels like a land you are not allowed to visit and you’re constantly looking over your shoulder afraid you’ll be caught. Why do we feel guilty?

How many times do those on dialup hear “stop tying up the phone line� or “get off the Internet I want to call my sister.� Or “my phone bill, it’s going to be 10 pages long thanks to you!� These are some of the problems for both those that use dialup and those that share a phoneline with a dialup Internet user. Then for those that ring while the person is on the net you’ll get the engaged tone or get diverted to a “the person you are calling is� type voicemail.

The guilt trinity – Money, danger, the unknown

The average Internet user in Ireland pays €36 a month for Internet access. Given that you can get broadband products cheaper than dialup these days it shows that dialup users are probably paying higher than the €36 average and we can bet that some could be getting bills for hundreds of euros. These days you get broadband for €20 a month whereas the same service provider charges €26.99 for 180 hours of dialup Internet. So why not switch to broadband? Unfortunately 1 in 4 people still cannot get broadband in Ireland.

Dialup is dangerous
Dialup is also dangerous, moreso than broadband. Why? Being always-on or online for extended periods of time means you can set your pc and applications to automatically update. Continually updating your operating system, your anti-virus files and other programs keeps you safer when online. Ever try downloading a Microsoft servicepack over dialup? Worse again over crappy slow dialup with frequent disconnects asis the norm for so many people in Ireland? What downloads in a breeze with broadband takes hours and costs a lot with dialup. The result of this is that many Irish computers are riddled with viruses and malware, slowing them down even further when they go online, attacking and infecting other computers and infecting people via email.

Down with that sort of thing
Unfortunately the Irish people who control the phone and phone bills have an almost luddite like attitude to new technology. Contrast this with the explosion of texting and mobile phone use when teens were given ready-to-go phones a few years back. When the older generation was taken out of the equation and teens could spend their pocket money and wages on topping up their phone credit, hundreds of thousands went mobile. With ISPs only accepting adults as subscribers and wanting bank account details and minimum contracts, are they excluding a great deal of people who want broadband, who actually have the disposable cash but just can’t provide it in the strict manner the ISPs want? I would think so. The timed dialup and broadband products currently on offer make a half-arsed attempt at doing this but their structure is too messed up. They need to be in bands of hours much like pay as you go was instead of selling x amount of hours and then charging per minute after this. (Ideally I’d like to see flatrate) They need to be contract free and they need to be available to anyone and not just people with bank accounts.

The dialup plan of attack
With the guilt trinity in our minds, those on dialup have over time managed to come up with plans which would make an SAS commander proud. First is the synchronising of the watches and the preliminary mission time is chosen. Check. It must be after 6pm on weekdays or anytime during the weekends. Offpeak is cheaper. Check. You must then factor in the times when your phone will be called so that you don’t miss the call from Nana Murphy and Aunty Sheila. Check.

The mission is executed. Your trigger finger is on the mouse. Two clicks and the dialup program runs. The modem screeches, alerting the general household of the Internet raid. It’s time to be fast. The “connected� notice flashes. It tells your connection speed. GO GO GO GO you shout in that very british squaddie accent, you raid the Google, free the data from the pages, disconnect, GO GO GO. In and out in 60 seconds. Another successful run. You can breathe out now. Later that month there’s a squad meeting with Officer Mammy where the mission is examined and compared to intel data provided by PhoneCom.

Conservative Ireland isn’t dead and gone
With our conservative attitude with going online with dialup, we have yet to fully embrace what being online is all about. This new frontier largely remains undiscovered by the Irish people. Even when we move over on to broadband we still have the lingering doubts and habits. “Careful there� says the brain, “should you be having this much fun?� It takes another while to deprogram before we begin to enjoy the Internet. When we have to apologise for doing something then we are already setting the wrong precedent. We need to be encouraged to go online and we need to encourage others.

If the Government is serious about getting people online and building the knowledge economy then it needs to encourage rejoicing Internet use and not repenting for it. The Government needs to make dialup far far cheaper and make broadband available to everyone. It needs to show the positives of the Internet and combat the hype about the dangers of using the Internet. There shouldn’t be a confession box construct for using the Internet.

2 Responses to “Catholic Web Surfing – The Internet, Irish Style”

  1. How many Homes and Businesses are still on Dial-up?

    ….Is it in the providers interest to delay Broadband roll-out?

    Then, on the take-up side of things, what’s really stopping people from switching to broadband?

    Is it really:
    1) Cost?
    2) Availability?
    3) They’re afraid that their teenage would have unlimited access to adult content?
    4) They can’t see or understand the applications that need Broadband?

    Is DSL the answer OR is it only the first step?
    Is DSL sufficient for more advanced Broadband services to the home?

    This is only the first wave. In 5 to 10 years time we’ll need to upgrade from DSL and the telecom cable infrastructure will not be capable of the bandwidth we require.

  2. Damien says:

    Donagh, there are no conclusive figures but it varies from 600,000 to 800,000 dialup accounts. There are probably plenty of dormant accounts. 37% of households have Internet access in Ireland. Only 1/4 of them have broadband. 50% of household have the net in the UK and about the same in the states. 50% of people online in the UK use broadband and 60% in the states.

    As I mentioned, one ISP sells 1mb always on broadband for €20 a month and they sell 190 hours of dialup for €26.99. The cost of dialup would be cheaper if they got a better wholesale rate but they can’t get that. The main group that profits from dialup are eircom. Zero investment, no upgrading of exchanges. The longer people use dialup the better either via a reseller like UTV and BT who pay a large wholesale price or via their own service. When a dialup user has to pay 3 euros an hour for dialup and has to stay on 10 to 20 times longer to download the same amount, you can see that there is an incentive to keep wholesale prics up. eircom even mentioned this in their previous two SEC filings and the fact that the regulator has not re-examined the wholesale cost of dialup. We have asked the regulator more than once and they don’t see a need.

    On the take-up of broadband I think it is the fact that people can’t see broadband is a flatprice and the older generation that is in charge of the phone bill is slow to sign up with so many preconceptions. If people already had good Internet experience I think more would sign up to broadband but the experience of many that have had dialup is ripoff pricing and crap service.

    I don’t think there’s the fear of adult material online, I think there’s just a general fear of the tech. We need the kids to be able to pay the bill and just like the mobiles, the parents won’t mind.

    Saying that the Govt seems to spend a lot of resources on these child protection campaigns and “careful the Internet is evil”. Great for making headlines that the Govt is “thinking about the children” but they should perhaps spend resources on saying why the Net is good too.

    Ryanair I think brought a lot of people in touch with the Internet but we don’t book flights on a weekly basis. If more applications like that were online I think you’d see people sign up.

    Drop VAT on computers too or give free broadband to those that buy a PC. First 3 months is free or something.

    DSL is just the first step. It’s broadband over a phoneline and every home (almost) has a phoneline so it is the easiest route for broadband to get into the home. Current DSL will get you about 6-8mbps. ADSL2+ can get you 18mbps. Sufficient for now until wireless matures and can offer better speeds and quality.

    BT has a 5, 10 and 15year plan for broadband and broadband via fibre. France telecom and others are rolling out fibre to the home in France. eircom have no plans that we know of and the copper rots more and more each and every year.