Microsoft president Brad Smith criticises Ireland on broadband

Web Summit hears governments need to move faster in delivering access to internet

Ireland was taken to task in front of an audience of more than 10,000 people at Web Summit on Wednesday morning by Microsoft president Brad Smith, who criticised the lack of access to broadband in parts of the Republic.

Mr Smith, whose company employs about 1,500 people in Ireland, used the Republic as an example of a state where large swathes of the population are being “left behind” in terms of internet access.

Speaking on the centre stage in Lisbon’s waterfront Altice Arena, he told the audience that, although Ireland is the “birthplace of the Web Summit, more than one million people there” lack access to broadband. He also used the example of the United States, where the corresponding figure is 21 million, he said,

Mr Smith said people without broadband access in developed countries such as Ireland and the US are hugely disadvantaged when it came to job creation or access to the “frontiers” of medicine or other sectors under development.

“We need governments to move faster. We need to put people first,” he said.

Despite controversy over the costs and a dearth of viable bidders, the Government is pressing ahead with the €3 billion National Broadband Plan to bring access to rural parts of Ireland. A Granahan McCourt consortium, the only bidder left in the contest, has been named preferred bidder.

Mr Smith, who is responsible for much of Microsoft's legal and regulatory approach, was prominent on Wednesday among a roster of high-profile speakers at Web Summit, which is run by Irish businessman, Paddy Cosgrave.

In assessing the dangers of technological advancement, such as artificial intelligence, the Microsoft president also warned that “any tool can become a weapon”.

“AI is a tool like never seen before, so it also can be a weapon like never seen before,” he said. “We shouldn’t just ask what computers can do. We should ask what they should do.”

Mark Paul

Mark Paul

Mark Paul is Business Affairs Correspondent of The Irish Times. He also writes the Caveat column