e-government and broadband

Mr Howlin, Mr Reilly, meet Mr Rabbitte!

 

Recently the Department of Enterprise and Reform demonstrated clearly why Government is not engaging in ‘joined-up’. thinking.

The department used six pages of its public service reform document [1] to outline its dreams for future e-government. Paragraph after paragraph of laudable yet wishful thinking. Amidst it all, we were stunned to learn that “Technology moves forward at high speed”. Drivel that it is, it is not true when it comes to essential communications infrastructure in rural Ireland. The Minister Howlin has seemingly not stepped out of his ministerial bubble in years.

The future

The document envisages a technological future where many of the 600 or so government services are delivered online. This is a wonderful idea, however hasn’t he forgotten the most basic ingredient of such a plan? The key element that was missing was broadband. The future being proposed will be unavailable to nearly 90 percent of the national territory because capable and proper broadband connections do not exist in those areas.

The reality

Here are some hard facts for Minister Howlin:

Census 2011 told us that 559,000 households do not have a broadband connection; 426,000 do not have an internet connection. Has he taken any cognisance of the implications of these figures.[2]?

Look at it another way, through the Department of Communications periscope.

The last two government broadband ‘schemes’ (if the maps are to be believed) demonstrated that at least 260,000 homes did not have access to broadband. Those schemes cumulatively have delivered only 40,000 connections. None of those connections are capable of delivering the bandwidth required by Mr Howlin, and both of those schemes will be terminated by August of this year. The target areas will return (but for the work of some FWA providers) to the situation pre – 2006.

Minister Howlin therefore cannot derive any savings from e-government because he will not be able to stand down the antiquated methods of service delivery that will still be required by those without adequate broadband connections. To make those savings he will require that 100% of households have access to a broadband connection capable of delivering, online, e-government services that are currently delivered by physical means.

Take for example the e-health proposal. It is modeled on the work of the Australian National E-health Transition Authority (NEHTA).  The proposal envisages telemedicine, telehealth and even ambient assisted living (AAL)[4] programs which require ultra high-speed low-latency symmetrical connections. (i.e Fibre To The Home). But Australia is different. In Ireland, we have not even started. After two and half years, our National Broadband ‘Plan’ has not even produced a map, never mind a functional plan, still less an actual deployment. The Department of Communications are hoping the ESB will come to the rescue, but even the most optimistic speculation about the proposed ESB-Telecoms Fibre to the Building (FTTB) project leaves out at least 400,000 homes in rural areas.

The truth is that if any of the services envisioned by Minister Howlin actually come to pass, they will exclude the 30-50% of the population that cannot access either competent basic broadband or a service capable of simultaneously uploading and downloading the live video and data required by telemedicine and telehealth. Those elements in Mr Howlin’s plan that have the most potential to save money – by replacing physical presence with online presence – will be the least widely available, particularly in the areas where they can save the most money, and deliver the best social return. These are often the very people that need these services the most.

To quote EU Commissioner Neelie Kroes – “Plainly speaking, eHealth will only have a future in Europe if our homes, hospitals, healthcare centres and public services can connect to affordable high-speed internet connections. eHealth needs ultra-fast broadband.” [3]

Mr Howlin and Mr Reilly should ask their cabinet colleague, Mr Rabbitte, why he and his department are opposing Commissioner Kroes’s proposals and why therefore delaying the benefits of e-government. And by the way, can we have an update on these mysterious “plans” the DCENR are supposedly involved with. A typical example of “the left hand not knowing what the right hand is doing”.

The scope of the broadband problem is outlined at www.irelandoffline.org/map

 

[1] http://reformplan.per.gov.ie/downloads/files/Reform%20Plan%202014.pdf

[2]http://www.cso.ie/en/statistics/informationsociety/numberofprivatehouseholdsinpermanenthousingunitsineachprovincecountyandcityclassifiedbypersonalcomputerownershipandaccesstotheinternet2011/

[3]http://europa.eu/rapid/press-release_MEMO-14-12_en.htm

[4] Action 78 of Pillar VII  of the Digital Agenda for Europe 2020 http://ec.europa.eu/digital-agenda/en/pillar-vii-ict-enabled-benefits-eu-society/action-78-reinforce-ambient-assisted-living-aal-joint

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