Broadband: the latest fad or a blueprint for the future?
Broadband is the buzzword in rural development at the moment but is it as crucial to the West of Ireland as its promoters claim? Cróna Esler investigates. WITH an influx of offers from the various broadband Internet providers currently swarming the market, 2004 could be the year that broadband finally takes off. As the marketing machines of Eircom, Esat BT and other providers swing into action, consumers should ready themselves for what promises to be a tidal wave of information at a competitive price. "About 140 to 150 Irish towns and cities are now broadband-enabled; that’s about 60 per cent of all telephone lines," says Peter Evans, product director for Esat BT.
The above snippet from Western People this week is the start of quite a long article that provides an interesting review of this strange new thing called broadband. Years after most other countries we may finally be in with a chance of speeding up our Internet access. Remember years ago when they dug up the streets of Castlebar for cable television and broadband? Has anything happened yet? I don’t think so. All that disruption and ripping up of streets for nothing. Broadband cabling was also supposed to be running alongside the North Mayo gas pipeline but that’s on hold too. So we are reliant on regular phone lines for broadband – although admittedly it is a fantastic technical achievement compared with the accepted thinking 10 years ago - which was that we could never go faster than 48kb/s over a copper telephone line.
There’s always a catch in the small print though. In this case the small print means that you have to live within something like two miles of a town if you want to have what they are calling full ‘broadband’ (in fact it’s not really broadband at all) at a reasonable cost. The new digital poor are the 'one-offers' located too far from a town or village for copper wire broadband. Satellite connections and line-of sight radio broadband are mentioned for the one-off houses in the more rural regions. But the these require an additional dial-up connection for the up-link. This means that you have to have two separate subscriptions – one a regular dial-up or ISDN link and the satellite provides the fast transfer downwards at 512kb or whatever. Since broadband started to become popular, however, ISDN lines fail on a regular basis here in Castlebar - so even your up-link may not work. This is driving people nuts who believed that a 64kb ISDN line entitled them to continuous service at a full-belt 64kb whenever they require it. So having 512kb download from a satellite or radio system is no use if the up-link isn’t working as it should. The trouble is that the capacity is not there when you get back to the exchange when a whole lot of people want to watch an old TV programme or download the latest Big Tom or Daniel O'Donnell album at the same time. It's worth checking out your system performance and watching bytes received and bytes transmitted through your modem.
Kilcoyne slams Fáilte Ireland over ‘massaged’ tourism figures
With Failte Ireland in the wars over its tourism "figures", a call has been made for the former Bord Failte to be "revamped or put out of its misery". Whole scale unease has spread throughout the tourism sector with what is widely perceived to be 'massaged' and 'invented' figures in relation to the tourism industry in Ireland in recent times. The chairperson of the Consumers Association of Ireland, Michael Kilcoyne, who was poll-topper in the Castlebar Town Council elections some weeks ago, says no one in the industry believes the figures being issued by Failte Ireland. "On what basis to they arrive at these figures? I know of no one who is asked coming into this country if they are coming here on holidays.
Ah yes! Shoot the messenger. Funnily enough I was polled by the CSO at Dublin airport twice in the past three years times and once in Manchester airport by the UK equivalent. And I don’t travel out of the country that often - three or four times a year perhaps. In each case they asked me a whole string of questions – How much did you spend? Where are you coming from? – On holidays? Business? - etc., etc. So I reckon the national statistics are spot on. The tourists are coming but they’re avoiding the west for some reason.
I was listening to Tom McGurk yesterday morning in a discussion about holidays abroad. The statistics show that as far as tourism is concerned Ireland is now in a deficit situation – i.e. we Irish now spend more abroad than tourists do coming into Ireland! A startling figure indeed. The other point made that was that Knock is now recognised as the cheapest airport in the country to fly out of on sun package holidays. (I don’t know if they were taking the 10 euro departure charge into account – when you go to board a plane at Knock be aware that you have to hand over a tenner at the desk additional to any airfares or government taxes you have already paid – even if you are just flying to Dublin).
We do charge too much for Eurozone tourists – they must be horrified at the price of a meal or a pint here but there’s not much difference between prices on the eastern and western seaboards – if anything prices are probably cheaper here than in the greater Dublin region. So that doesn’t explain why they don’t come West. The British are probably getting quite good value for their pounds at current exchange rates - perhaps the USA too. But a lot of them come to visit relations and are probably staying with family members in many cases so they don’t show up in stats for B&Bs or hotels.
Perhaps the fact that we are destroying our two main assets that attract tourists has something to do with it – the environment is especially important here in the west and secondly the Irish welcome. We are building indiscriminately dumping ugly houses on top of the scenery willy-nilly so that they overwhelm the very asset that people might want to pay good money to come and see. We are planting vast tracts of ugly conifer plantations. We have paid farmers to overstock sheep and they have eaten every last spick of heather from the hillsides. We allow drift net fishermen to scoop up salmon before they reach the rivers for angling tourists (see next item).
The second more intangible asset is the friendly people and great welcome that you might get from the native Irish. Undoubtedly it’s still there in spots but unfortunately the unwelcoming signs posted now all down the western region – "Keep Out" – "You are now entering a premises…." – "Private Property" – signs that were unheard of even a decade or two ago. And that’s before you talk about fencing off land for private golf clubs and private beaches. It sure leaves a bad taste in my mouth and I’m a ‘local’ but the tourists can't be too happy either. In shops and restaurants too, there's a feeling that the old chat and welcome is being replaced by something more base and commercial more ‘greasy till’ than the old ‘céad míle fáilte’? Of course this may be aggravated by unexpected language difficulties which mean that in lots of cases the person serving the tourist doesn’t know what ‘céad míle fáilte’ means in English never mind their native language.
Salmon anglers and net men angry at Government
Salmon anglers in a number of clubs in County Mayo are raging at a plan to introduce a ban on the killing of fish taken on rod and line during the month of September. And commercial fishermen in the area are fuming that the Minister has refused to extend their season so that they might reach quota in what has been described as a disastrous season for them.
It looks bad for salmon survival. As I understand it Ireland is the only remaining country that still allows commercial drift netting. For years the Donegal nets fishing far out at sea were scooping up thousands of salmon returning from the North Atlantic as they made their way back to English, French Spanish or Portuguese rivers never mind those salmon destined for Waterford or the Liffey. In recent years they have been pulled in closer to the coast so they are not catching quite as many salmon that belong to other countries - but they still catch fish destined for other parts of Ireland further south including the Moy. The Faroes and Icelandic fisheries have long closed down – so we should be getting more fish coming back to rivers like the Moy. However the rumour this year is that in overall terms the number of returning fish this summer are few and far between – a catastrophic collapse appears to be happening as we speak and as the fisherman argue about their livelihood.
Sustainability is handing on to the next generation vaible populations of those species that we have at present. The Minister has to draw a line somewhere if Irish salmon are not to follow the way of the North Atlantic Cod and be lost forever. If these fish are given to netsmen (or even anglers) and sufficient salmon do not make their way up our rivers to spawn there will simply not be a next generation. The number of young salmon that must be produced in order to have one get back out to sea is simply enormous – the vast majority die young in the river. There are enough problems in the rivers where the small fry must survive for over year in a constant battle against farm pollution, forestry, septic tanks and sewage plants. We can make things even harder by insisting on a right to take fish and end up reducing the number of spawning fish below the point where the population is not sustainable. But then we get the Grand Banks effect where even some 20 years after conservation measures were introduced the cod have not yet come back.