I sat watching the depressingly slow advance of the little blue progress bar on my laptop screen. Downloading the 150 odd e-mails that had accrued in my mailboxes over the last 24 hours was taking an age… and as for checking the various websites that help keep me connected and up-to-date… forget it.
On Friday evening we unexpectedly lost our fixed wireless broadband connection. One minute it was there, the next it was gone. Like most broadband connections in Ireland it was an overpriced and under-performing beast – but it also put a wonderful world of information and connectivity at our fingertips. Now it was gone, and we were back to the excruciating crawl of a dial-up connection.
You don’t realise how much you’ve come to rely on something until it’s taken away. I can’t count how many times a day I’d look up a website, do a quick Google search to double check a fact, go online to communicate with friends, family and business contacts and to generally stay connected with the world around me. Going back to dial-up was like stepping back into the dark ages… I had to remind myself that this was, in fact, still the reality for a rediculously high number of households in rural Ireland.
No broadband… it took a while for the implications to sink in. My first instinct was to go online, do some research and explore other options, but of course I couldn’t. That’s when it hit me – how could we run our home-based businesses without internet access? The answer: not very well at all!
Everything about the businesses depends on the internet: the websites, e-mail, payments, banking, accounts. Even the business phone line is delivered online. Dial-up simply isn’t an option for us any more.
Unfortunately we live in what can only be described as Europe’s digital backwater. While Ireland has made great strides to improve broadband availability over recent years, we typically pay through the nose for much slower connections than our European peers, and an unacceptable proportion of Irish households still can’t get a broadband connection at all.
It’s curious that we find ourselves in this position as Europe’s digital poor-relations. To listen to our government you’d swear we were ahead of the curve in the technology stakes. They talk about Ireland leading the charge towards a knowledge based global economy, but while they pimp Ireland as the technology hub of Europe on the global stage, small businesses at home are struggling to compete because they don’t have access to the bandwidth they need. It’s a shambles!
And it’s not just small businesses that are suffering in this impoverished digital environment. The internet, and the suite of communication and information technologies it enables, is a vital educational resource for our children. They’re growing up in a technology centric world; to thrive and succeed tomorrow they need to engage with that technology today. Without a decent internet connection at home and at school they simply can’t do that.
The next day I rang our telephone provider, praying that our local exchange had finally been “broadband enabled”. Luckily it had! I breathed a huge sigh of relief, and signed up straight away. It’s going to take three long weeks for us to get connected, and because we’re a long way from the exchange, there is no guarantee we’ll get the connection speeds we need.
I guess we’ll have to wait and see. It’s going to be a long three weeks.