Broadband lobby group IrelandOffline, which emerged five years ago and grew to become an energetic lobbying group that attracted the attention of the media, Government and telecoms firms, is to be wound down on 9 June, siliconrepublic.com has learned.
IrelandOffline first emerged in 2001 following a Sunday afternoon get-together of concerned internet users after IrelandOnline (IOL) cut off 2,000 customers who had the temerity to interpret IOL’s ‘no limits’ dial-up product as being an unlimited and unmetered internet access product.
In the intervening years the organisation’s campaign for better priced, unmetered internet access evolved into campaigning for affordable broadband access to homes and businesses around Ireland and broader national telecoms infrastructure issues.
Individuals like John Timmons, Damien Mulley and Garret Pelly became spokespeople on these issues and helped to lift the lid on anomalies ranging from line-splitting to the now defunct Group Broadband Scheme and Ireland’s consistent poor showing on OECD league tables.
In recent weeks Damien Mulley stepped down as chairman after three years in the role. “I wasn’t there from the start but the organisation began in the days of the ‘no limits’ fiasco and changed swiftly to issues from dial-up to always-on cheap internet access.
“Most of us have been on the committee for three years and at this stage we’re a little fatigued from all the work,” Mulley told siliconrepublic.com. “We decided the time was right to finish because things have improved an awful lot and the recent National Broadband Scheme tender, flawed as it is, is still a step in the right direction.”
Asked what he believed the voluntary organisation’s key achievements were, Mulley said: “Awareness of broadband issues is quite good amongst the various stakeholders and press and the general population are aware of broadband, failure rates and the exorbitant cost of telecoms in Ireland compared to Europe.”
However, he said he believes there is still a lot of work to be done and hopes the reins will one day be picked up by a new organisation or if IrelandOffline is reborn. “But after three years the current committee need a break. Things are getting better and Eircom’s attitude has improved in terms of the decision to upgrade the majority of its exchanges as well as the Government tender covering exchanges considered unviable by operators.
“There is still the issue that 10pc of this country cannot get broadband and we will need someone to represent those people. As well as this line rental is going to increase. If we kept on going we would have turned into a consumer representative group on prices and quality of service, which wasn’t the original goal of IrelandOffline,” said Mulley.
Highlights of IrelandOffline’s work, said Mulley, included raising overall awareness of the high line failure rate in Ireland for broadband and tackling the Commission for Communications Regulation (ComReg) on consumer issues.
But with in excess of 500,000 Irish people now subscribing to broadband and more to follow, Mulley warned against a dangerous complacency that may slip in. “According to announcements from Eircom, there are 300,000 additional people who now have broadband that didn’t have it a year ago.
“As well as this, exciting new developments are occurring in the areas of wireless spectrum as well as operators like 3 offering 3.6MB wireless broadband for just €20 a month. Things have improved and there’s the motivation to build a better infrastructure than what we had, based on alternative technologies other than our phone lines.”
Asked what his plans are following the winding down of IrelandOffline Mulley’s first answer: “Sleep. Lots of sleep.
“I’ll definitely be taking time out but will take time to answer phone calls. The IrelandOffline forum on Boards.ie (http://www.boards.ie) will remain open and the IrelandOffline website (http://www.irelandoffline.org) will stay live with its various articles and resources.
“Personally, I’m going to be concentrating on my day job as well as a few web projects and a business advisory group. I’m also involved in a tour of Silicon Valley by Irish tech companies as well as organising an event for Irish tech start-ups in September,” Mulley concluded.
By John Kennedy