Google head urges more broadband investment


IRELAND NEEDS to do better at broadband, and getting businesses online, Google’s Eric Schmidt said yesterday.

Speaking yesterday in Dublin, the company's executive chairman said Ireland was behind some of our competitors – France, Germany and the UK getting a specific mention – in providing high-speed internet access to homes and businesses, through both traditional access and wireless networks such as 4G.

“Which is not to say that you can’t catch up quickly, but you need to do it,” he said. “It’s not a tragedy but it’s an issue.

“The thing the Government can actually do that’s hard is [to] work with the telecommunications providers to get more broadband. It’s very difficult for small businesses to do,” he added.

“There are very few things that are better use of your money than long-term infrastructure in information technology that serves the interests of the citizens of the country.”

It’s a situation that has been negatively affected by the financial crisis, he noted.

“It may be that the Government has had a tough time, choosing between 10 different legitimate groups. I’m lobbying for mine,” he said. “The benefit of lobbying for mine is I think that the economic benefit of getting Irish businesses to be global, the flow through is so phenomenal. It creates new jobs, they pay taxes; it’s a market. But it is aided by such investment.”

This will help Irish businesses to become more global, get online and utilise the internet, he said, describing it as a global opportunity for Irish businesses.

“If I can sound critical, my observation is that Irish businesses are somewhat behind, especially the small and medium business, getting online compared to where they should be,” he said. “And Google and other companies working with people here should work very hard to get those companies on the internet.”

About 40 per cent of Irish companies do not have a website or other form of online presence, a situation that has led Google to get involved in an initiative with Blacknight Internet Solutions, An Post and the county and city enterprise boards aimed at helping to get smaller enterprises online.

He quoted a recent McKinsey study which claimed that, for every job lost through internet competition, 2.6 are created.

The good news is that Google, for the moment at least, has no plans to go anywhere. In fact, the company is expanding here all the time. It currently employs about 2,200 people in Ireland and is one of the fastest growing employers in the State.

“Our decision has nothing to do with the Irish economy and everything to do with the Irish workforce,” he said. “Ireland is a great place to run our business. We have a workforce of geographically diverse, speaking multiple languages, creative young people coming out of your top universities. This is a desirable place to work.”

The company is also continuing to branch out, from its mobile Android platform to investments in renewable energy programmes and incorporating technologies such as near field communications into its devices, which makes it easier to make payments or exchange information. Android is just getting started, Mr Schmidt said, with the platform now available on 300 devices.

“It’s a reasonable assumption that Android and Apple will battle it out. That competition is very good for the consumer. It keeps everybody honest,” he said.

He also expects Android tablets to pick up the pace. “I think you should judge these platforms after a year or two,” he said. “ We benefit from the competition among hardware devices.”