SFI's Glass says broadband is crucial

According to Alastair Glass of SFI, it is essential for Ireland to have high quality broadband connections in every home if it wishes to develop as an information society.

When asked whether it was impractical to connect rural areas, Glass responded by saying that the same thing was said about electricity.

The comments come a week after the ESRI criticised the government for investing in broadband initiatives in rural towns and said the matter should be left to the private sector. When asked about the ESRI's criticisms, Glass said the government had to invest in the Metropolitan Area Networks (MANs) because the private sector was unable to move quickly enough. He argued that the country should aim for a minimum standard of 10Mbps connections in every home in the ten years.

Glass was speaking at an SFI briefing on progress to date in its programme of investment in ICT research and development. The organisation has a budget of about EUR650 million over six years for investment in such projects. While the figure may seem large, Glass said that it was relatively modest by international standards and that private companies often had budgets of this size or more for R&D. To date the SFI has funded 123 research initiatives, which represent approximately 700 individual personnel.

With such a tight budget, it's not surprising the SFI has been rigorous in vetting applications. According to Glass, a two-tiered approach is employed in selecting projects for funding. "We have to pick programmes that are top quality. Each project is reviewed by international experts in the field before we make a decision. They also have to meet a strategic metric and we have to decide whether they will result in industrial or start-up opportunities here in Ireland," he said.

Creating research clusters is another one of the SFI's priorities. Glass argued that it was inefficient to have people conducting similar projects at different campuses. Instead, it was important to encourage inter-institutional co-operation in creating international centres of excellence.

Accompanying Glass was Professor Mark Keane, chair of computer science at UCD, who is involved in one of the first clusters to receive funding. Keane's group, the Adaptive Information Cluster, brings together experts in the field of hardware, networks and software to concentrate on data mining technology. The group comprises of personnel from both UCD and DCU and received EUR5.5 million from the SFI in funding.

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