Welcome to what I hope will be an engaging conference on how we can facilitate broadband leadership.
This conference has been a joint initiative between the ComReg and my Department. Without the commitment and effort of Com Reg this conference would not have happened and I thank them on my own behalf and on behalf of the Department.
When I took over as Minister for Communications in September 2004, I took over an extremely diverse portfolio. From the outset I have tried to emphasise and champion the importance of broadband and its enabling technologies to our economy.
Even before I took up this present portfolio, in Environment and Local Government through the free internet in Libraries scheme and in Education and Science through the Broadband for Schools scheme I strove to promote the use of IT and to fight against the dangers of a “digital divide”.
For me broadband is not just the latest in a long list of technology buzzwords; it is a tool that has the potential to bring profound changes to our society.
Today’s conference showcases just a small sample of some of the amazing projects that I have been privileged to see over the past two years.
The potential of these projects and the many others not mentioned or highlighted today is immense.
Today you will be updated on the latest breakthroughs in video conferencing technologies.
You will hear how Sligo IT is using podcasting to improve access to third level education.
And you will hear how companies at the cutting edge of technology, like eBay, DemonWare and Concept Labs, are planning to use broadband technologies to bring new improved services to the marketplace.
When I spoke at the Annual TIF conference two years ago, the official number for broadband subscribers stood at a mere 56,000 subscribers. I set a target of 400,000 connections by the end of 2006 and challenged the industry to aim even higher, for half a million by 2007.
I am delighted to say that the latest official figures from ComReg show that over 100,000 new broadband connections were made in the first half of this year and the increase per month is still around 17,000.
By the end of June there were over 372,000 subscribers and I am delighted to announce here today that we have already exceeded 410,000 subscribers.
That means that as we speak almost 30% of households now have a broadband service.
I congratulate all those who helped us reach this milestone. But we should not stop there. We should not settle for meeting a target set two years ago. My challenge to industry at that conference still stands and we should aim to reach 500,000 by the middle of next year. This is ambitious but achievable.
But it is not enough to just make broadband available, we need to start demonstrating what broadband can do for those who may not have considered getting broadband before.
By now you will all have seen the Department’s Broadband Awareness television adverts. This campaign, supported by INTERREG and ComReg, has been running constantly since early July and was originally scheduled to run until Halloween.
However I am delighted to say, that due to the overwhelmingly positive feedback that the campaign has received, that we have secured an additional €350,000 to extend the campaign right up to the New Year.
In addition, a further €1.35 million has been secured from INTERREG to help roll out the 2007 and 2008 “Make It Secure” campaigns on a cross border basis.
These campaigns will continue to promote the use of broadband technologies but will focus on how to have a safe and enjoyable internet experience.
We will continue to push the message that ‘broadband opens up whole new worlds’.
Indeed that is the key message of today’s event. Broadband is not about simply getting your email faster. It has the potential to radically alter how our society communicates and interacts.
A conversation with a friend of mine recently convinced me of the need to get beyond the arguments about the supply side of broadband. When I questioned him on the importance of broadband he had a simple view. He saw broadband as something you used to send emails, look at websites and perhaps buy a ticket. He didn’t see beyond the hype to the possible services that broadband could bring. In short, he saw the present, but not the potential.
We need to show people the potential not the present. Those of us involved in this issue, who know the potential have to get out there and show it to others.
Too many people see broadband as the same old Internet, just a bit faster. It is much more. Broadband opens up whole new worlds and services.
We need to be telling people of a time in the not too distant future when a phone call home will be a visual as well as aural experience. We will be able to see as well as talk to family, friends or customers on an integrated screen built into the phone.
Traditionally this sort of technology and additionality has been confined to expensive 3G mobile phones, but broadband will bring that service to everybody and I welcome the endeavours of the mobile operators, such as Vodafone, who is here today, in this regard.
Broadband will thus enable video conferencing to break free from the confinements of the office. You will hear later this morning of video conferencing using HP’s Halo room which really is like sitting in a face to face meeting. It has all the qualities of a face to face meeting …except the physical handshakes.
This is no longer Star Trek level technology; broadband is enabling what was science fiction to become science fact.
By Christmas 2007 children, and indeed many adults, will be playing and competing against others online using their Xbox 360’s and Playstation 3’s.
As you will hear later from DemonWare, there is already a massive online gaming community.
Microsoft have led the way in this area with their Xbox Live community. I read a report a few days ago about how Microsoft had launched what they called the ‘XNA Game Studio Express’. This will allow skilled home enthusiasts build their own Xbox games and not only that, but enable them to share them with others in the Xbox Live community.
Imagine, the next generation of gamers learning how to develop computer programmes and sharing them with their friends!
Yet again, this is only possible because of the advances in broadband technology.
Or, if designing your own video games does not sound like entertainment maybe you would prefer something like Amazon’s new ‘Amazon Unbox’ service which just launched in America.
‘Amazon Unbox’ is a digital TV and movie download service that will allow PC users with broadband access to download films and top rated TV shows right onto their machine.
Amazon's move into the online media business reflects huge growth in the demand for digital entertainment.
The ultimate objective is to extend ‘Amazon Unbox’ to TV screens and small portable devices like your mobile phone and mp3 player.
I remember the time when the name Apple conjured up the immediate thought of the world famous Apple Mac.
Nowadays Apple is synonymous with online music, another boom area that has benefited from the broadband revolution. People now use the name Ipod for any mp3 player in the way my peers would have used Hoover for a vacuum cleaner. Would Apple be where it is today if not for broadband?
Another area that excites many people is the development of long range wireless broadband services such as Intel’s WiMax technology.
A full scale rollout of WiMax is due to be complete in Milton Keynes before the end of the year. If the service is successful it could well be the solution to the problem of universal access to broadband.
Of course each of these companies are major employers in Ireland. Microsoft are based in Sandyford, Amazon have offices in the Digital Hub, Apple are located in Cork and Intel are out in Leixlip.
These companies, and others such as eBay, IBM and Google and the thousands of Irish employees that work for them are all world leaders in broadband technologies.
Many of the services and programmes that will shape our world for the next decade have been developed right here in Ireland and I expect that this sector is one that will continue to grow.
These visionaries and those who are engaging in their products and services have been dubbed the Web 2.0 generation. They will approach the broadband charged Internet not with the wonderment of something new, but with the authority of a generation that have fully embraced and accepted the online experience as one as valid as the offline world. In fact, they see no difference; it is all one world to them.
Many Irish Teenagers are spending hours online each day. They absorb information differently to even teenagers from the Nineties. They are highly visual, well educated, computer literate and perhaps most strikingly, have developed a very strong sense of self expression.
The effect of all this is that our current generation of students are immersed and comfortable in an era of ‘the global community’ and are incredibly tech savvy.
The Web 2.0 generation will be the driving force behind the uptake of broadband services, from the downloading ring tones and music services to studying at college online.
You will hear from Brian Mulligan & Brian Coll of the Institute of Technology in Sligo later, and of the innovative way they have provided lecture materials over the web. Some have gone even further.
South Kent College in Dover has spent €25,000 on Nano Ipod’s for 250 students to enable students listen to lectures they have missed.
The leadership shown by Sligo IT in this area is a prime example of what the broadband discussion should be about.
For me, the most important discussion isn’t about broadband league tables. It is about how we can use broadband to change the way we deliver services.
We need to be highlighting the huge advantages of being able to access and use online services be they State or local government services or the private sector. We need to convince business, especially the SME sector, that being IT literate is a competitive advantage.
The discussion should be about how broadband and related technologies, such as mobile phones, 3G services, WiMax, Digital Television and multimedia players, are changing not only the way we do business, but the ways business should change to meet an evolving customer base.
While all the other debates are important and I am not seeking to devalue them, we often completely miss the point in this area. The challenge as I see it is to get people to buy into the technology.
There are around 40% of home in this country that do not have a PC, for varying different reasons.
We, the Government and key players, must demonstrate to the other 40% that not embracing these new opportunities puts them at a major disadvantage and will deprive them of many incredibly useful services.
We cannot let a significant section of the country lag behind as the rest of us race on and we should not accept any sort of digital divide.
In that context it is now time to make a concerted effort to ensure that everyone in the country that wants to has access to broadband. Successful as the various schemes have been it is now time for the significant push to resolve the issue finally.
I have noted the various positive statements made in the recent past by Eircom and I welcome them. I also welcome the many other players in the market who want to assist in our aim to provide broadband for everyone.
It is now time to match these sentiments with positive actions. A speedy resolution of the discussions on LLU would assure everyone that a significant attitudinal change has taken place.
It would give everyone confidence that real and significant progress is possible in the immediate future. The final solution will only be achieved by a partnership between Government and the sector.
Today I am initiating a process that will address the so called last 15% issue to deliver nationwide broadband. Which will mean that every reasonable request for broadband can be met at a reasonable price. This solution can use all technologies including wireless to reach those customers where fixed line provisioning can’t work.
I will be discussing this matter further with Com Reg before finalising the shape of any competition. I do not think, judging by the statements being made that achieving these should be either impossible or overly time consuming.
I look forward to a positive response to resolving this issue for once and for all.
The first generation had the benefit of a killer application - email. The broadband generation needs a killer application with the same wide-scale appeal.
The challenge to the service providers, to software companies, to developers of media content and to all interested parties is to adapt your services and business model to meet these new expectations and the demands of new generations.
Thomas Friedman, in his seminal book "The Earth is Flat" declared that cheap, ubiquitous telecommunications has finally obliterated all impediments to international competition.
He makes the case that the dawning 'flat world' is a jungle pitting 'lions' and 'gazelles,' where 'the weak will fall farther behind.' By contrast he see's rugged, adaptable entrepreneurs being empowered. This is what we should aspire to.
We need to build on the progress made so far. We need to spread the message to the so far unconverted. We need to show the leadership to which this conference refers. I wish you well in your deliberations and all of us well in this task.