Author Archive

Digitally Divided – Another piece on broadband

Tuesday, May 23rd, 2006

I wrote the below for the Irish Farmers Journal. It was published last week.

For the country that created the Celtic Tiger and now has every major technology company operating here, Ireland’s lack of action with broadband is starting to alarm the EU, the OECD and major ICT investors in this country including Google, Microsoft, HP and Dell. However, eircom, Irish telecoms regulator ComReg and the Department of Communications have the ability to completely turn this situation around but why have they not?

When they were sold off by the Government, eircom inherited a network which was built with taxpayer money. Eircom are no longer Government owned and feel under no social obligation to provide broadband to everyone. They have upgraded about 450 out of their 1100 exchanges and state it is uneconomical to upgrade the rest. Instead they have asked the Irish taxpayer to give them money to upgrade the remaining 600 exchanges. Most of these exchanges are outside the main urban centres meaning a lot of rural dwellers may never get broadband over their phone line.

While eircom cannot be forced to upgrade all of their exchanges, under EU rules they are obligated to allow other telecom companies to have access to their exchanges so that these companies can offer voice and broadband services to consumers and businesses. This access process is known as local loop unbundling (LLU) and there are serious differences in what the access seekers want and what Eircom are willing to give despite eircom receiving some of the highest access fees in the EU.

There has been an on-going debate between the access seekers, eircom and the telecoms regulator for the past 3-4 years about what level of access there should be. On the 25th of April BT Ireland withdrew from these discussions stating that no progress had yet to be made. If Eircom followed the lead of BT in the UK and fully opened up their network then the resulting broadband competition would decrease prices and encourage upgrading of more exchanges, allowing more people in rural locations to get broadband on their phone line.

ComReg regulates the telecoms industry and one of their aims is help foster competition but under their watch Irish consumers pay the highest mobile bills in the EU, pay the highest line rental costs in the developed world and the average household landline bills are the second highest in the EU.

With increasing pressure from telecoms operators about LLU, ComReg, in February 2005 directed eircom to open up their network using an LLU process ComReg formulated. Eircom appealed the ComReg directives and before the appeals process started, ComReg changed their mind and withdrew their directives, restoring the status quo. Another year of negotiations and we are now back to the regulator saying they are going to send directives to Eircom to make it happen. How do we know ComReg really mean business this time when they really meant business in 2005, 2004 and 2003?

If Eircom don’t want to give full access to their network and ComReg do not appear to have the fortitude to force them to do it then it is up to the Minister of Communications to intervene in this matter and direct ComReg to make LLU workable. The Minister by law is entitled to do this. So far in his tenure, Minister Dempsey has not sent any directives to ComReg despite constant pleas from consumer groups and telecom lobby groups. Opening up eircom’s network is a crucial piece in the overall broadband puzzle and has been a key recommendation in reports from the Information Society Commission, Forfas, the Oireachtas Committee on Communications and the EU.

Another piece of the puzzle is to use wireless technology to fill in the gaps where broadband via a phoneline is not available. Currently there are wireless licences for the main urban centres and they are given to Digiweb, Clearwire, Irish Broadband and a few other operators. There is just one National Broadband Licence which could supply wireless broadband to most of the significant rural population of Ireland.

ComReg awarded this licence to Eircom and for the past number of years this exclusive national licence has not been used to its full potential. According to the Oireachtas broadband report as little as 500 customers use this Eircom system. It is also quite hard to sign up to this service when you contact Eircom. Despite numerous representations to ComReg to review this licence and provide it to other suppliers who could use it, ComReg have not taken any action on this.

With the two most important means of bridging the digital divide between the urban and rural populations being overlooked by a regulator failing miserably to get a control of every area of telecoms, it is now up to the Minister for Communications – Noel Dempsey to intervene. Noel Dempsey is the last hope to bridge the digital divide and to make sure the urban and rural populations are treated as broadband equals.

Congrats Tom and Pilar on Baby 2.0

Monday, May 22nd, 2006

I was chatting to Tom on IM today and then he went silent. I trotted off to his blog and I see Pilar and himself have headed to the hospital. Well done to the parents. This would be Baby 2.0 for Tom and Pilar.

David McWilliams gets 500k two book deal

Sunday, May 21st, 2006

Great money for two non-fiction books.

Radio researchers and gay marriage

Saturday, May 20th, 2006

A few weeks back I got a call from a researcher in a radio station, one which I won’t name because I’m nice like that. (Yes, I laughed at that bit too.) They were doing a piece on gay marriage and had read my blog and wanted to know would I come on as someone opposed to gay marriage, like I had written on my blog.
“Er, I did?” says a puzzled me.
“Yes, you listed reasons why gay people should not marry.”
I thought for a few microseconds and then an energy saving light bulb went off in my head. He had read my post listing 12 reasons why gay people should not be allowed to marry. This is the one that starts off by saying “1. Homosexuality is not natural, much like eyeglasses, polyester, and birth control.”

I asked the nice researcher “Have you read it? You do realise that it was, you know, satire?”
“Oh, er, it was? Oh, I should really read these things.”
“Uhm, yeah, might be a good idea.”
“So, you’re not against gay marriage then?”
“No.”
“Ok, so would you be for it?”
“I’m all for equality. ”
“Would you come on for that then?”
“I’d rather not, because I’m on your station on a regular basis talking about broadband or sometimes blogs. I get enough air-time as it is.”
“Oh right.”

See how easy it is to get on-air when you have a blog? As it happened I was on the station the following afternoon talking about broadband.

Rick and Shel – A new kind of road movie

Saturday, May 20th, 2006

They thought they knew each other but on a journey to find new business, they found themselves.

You need to read the above in the voice of that guy that does all the voiceovers of all those movie trailers. I actually tried to photoshop up a Thelma and Louise movie poster with the lads faces but the bloody photo editing application died on me. Also I’m useless at anything creative. Getting to the point though:

Rick Segal and Shel Israel are going on a world trip of a sort and want to meet up with people and businesses along the way. Rick wants to go looking at investment opportunities and Shel wants to research his next book. Doc Searls gives a good summary. David Weinberger gives a nod to road movie summaries too.

I think this could be a good opportunity for Irish business people to meet with two very clever and influential people. There’s a chance to bring them to Ireland (Shel is already coming to Cork soon) or else the eirepreneurs could hop on some cheap Ryanair flights for a meetup in London. Additionally why not come along to the latest Geek Dinner on the 7th of June and bend Shel’s ear about this World Tour.

Human interest story: Guy climbs Mount Everest despite being gay

Friday, May 19th, 2006

Ooops, what a fuck up.

Hello Evening Echo Readers

Thursday, May 18th, 2006

Yes, I do look like a langer in that picture.

You can read more Cork bloggers at Corkblogs.com (site currently offline it seems!)

Some other Cork bloggers are:

Ryan
Dave O’Neill.
Gavin Sheridan.
John Handelaar.
Branedy.
Treasa.
Tom Raftery.
Adam Beecher’s blog.

There are lots of UCC Bloggers too.

If you’re interested in learning about blogs and podcasts and other tech stuff then perhaps sign up to an IT@Cork tutorial.

IT@Cork Geek dinner – June 7th, any takers?

Thursday, May 18th, 2006

Before the June 8th IT@Cork conference there’ll be a geek dinner on the evening of June 7th. Anyone wish to go? It’s a Wednesday evening. Shel Israel, his wife and Salim Ismail should hopefully be about too for this. Nothing too formal. Location and time will fit into place as we get more exact numbers. By the way, the Radisson Hotel has a health spa so bring along the spouse to the day event and treat them to the spa. If any semi-loaded company wants to pay for the meal, or a round or two of drinks then let me know.

Thursday 18th May fluffy links

Thursday, May 18th, 2006

I should get some kind of pink background with feathery borders for these:

Really clever advertising on ATMs, drinks machines and photo ID Machines.

American Govt gives advice to “pre-pregnant women.” Very odd.

Pictures, lots of em where the word “Ooops” gives a good summary of them.

100s of links to music videos from the 80s.

Nice screen casting app for the Mac.

Multipurpose apps that have RSS feed reading capabilities don’t appear to be used much.

Top 10 social network sites and their growth. MySpace is exploding in usage but bebo isn’t anwyhere in the list. Maybe next year.

Do we need an environment more like SiliconValley? Forget Boston or Berlin.

Thursday, May 18th, 2006

Tom Coates gives a summary of the main points from a keynote from Paul Graham called “How American are startups?” and described his views on how SiliconValley breeds success and whether it can be replicated. The main points are below, but I wonder how many of these Ireland has already and do we need to adopt the rest to allow for better entreprenurship?

1. Allows immigration
2. Isn’t a poor country
3. Not a police state
4. High quality universities
5. You can fire people
6. Attitudes that don’t associate ‘working’ with being employed
7. Not anal about business regulations
8. Huge domestic market
9. High levels of funding
10. People comfortable with career switching

Read the comments though. Some very interesting ones including:

Cory Doctorow:

And if there’s one giant difference between the Bay Area and London that accounts for the differing startup climates, I’d say that it was cynicism. People in the Bay Area are optimistic about technology to the point of being starry-eyed and they possess a completely unabashed sense of ambition. In the years since I moved to London, I’ve felt a palpable cynicism about technology and about ambition: anyone who says anything grandiose about technology and what you might do with it is apt to be greeted with eye-rolling and pedantic, picky objections.

By contrast, the mantra of the San Francisco geek is more like, “Technology kicks so much fucking ass I am about to explode. Soon everyone will realize this.”

One other major contributor to California’s technology success (especially as compared to Route 128) is that noncompete agreements aren’t enforceable in Cali. That has led to a culture of aggressive poaching and promiscuous job-hopping through which the best and the brightest go from company to company, spreading the best ideas from each. That’s kept things growing very fast in California indeed.

Julian Bond:

Some of the biggest Web 2.0 success stories have started with no VC, no backing and people working in their spare time to create something “because it’s cool”. In at least some of them, they went live (or at least beta) for months before they ever needed to talk to rich people. Bootstrapping is the new burn rate.

So where do you find people who no longer have to spend their entire life trying to survive? Because isn’t it that which always acts as the trigger for civilisation to move forwards?

Tim Mansfield:

Silicon Valley seems to me to have an incredibly interesting social environment – I don’t mean pubs and parties, I mean that you’re surrounded by other people “making a go of it”, sometimes succeeding, sometimes failing, but trying.

The financial and general business-helping ecology seems a lot more diverse in California than it is here. More kinds of venture capital, from the risk-friendly to the risk averse, more places to partner with, more ways to set up, more ways to do business.