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Are satellite services the answer to rural Ireland’s broadband woes?

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Ireland’s National Broadband Plan aims to provide high-speed internet using fibre-optic technology to most parts of the country. But for those places too expensive to reach, the sky is not the limit thanks to services such as Elon Musk’s Starlink.

Satellite broadband, or internet access provided through geostationary satellites, is being considered as a feasible alternative for those parts of Ireland traditional providers are struggling to reach with fibre broadband.

Last week, the CEO of the National Space Centre urged the Government to consider providing grants and subsidies to some of those homes and businesses that will be left out of the plan.

“There will remain a ‘last mile’ segment for whom it is inefficient to serve via standard fibre networks, whether commercially or via State intervention,” Rory Fitzpatrick told an Oireachtas Committee responsible for the National Broadband Plan (NBP).

Fitzpatrick said that the challenge to put all consumers on an equal footing can be easily addressed by a grant subsidy for satellite services instead of infrastructure investment for outlying premises.

The NBP is a multibillion-euro plan to roll-out fibre broadband to 540,000 homes and businesses over a seven-year period. The contract was awarded to National Broadband Ireland in 2019 after broadband companies Eir and Siro backed out. Remote working from rural areas as a result of the pandemic has led the Government to see the matter with renewed urgency.

Satellite broadband in Ireland

When it comes to high-speed satellite internet services, Ireland is soon to be spoilt for choice. Fitzpatrick told the committee that many lower-orbit satellite service companies such as UK-based Oneweb, Canada’s Telesat and US-based Amazon are soon to make their debuts in the Irish market.

But one satellite provider that has emerged as an early bird winner in Ireland is known for reaching for the stars. Starlink, a satellite internet constellation being constructed by Elon Musk’s aerospace company SpaceX, secured an agreement with Kerry County Council in December last year.

In Kerry, Starlink aims to deliver high-speed, low-latency broadband to people in rural areas such as the infamously isolated Black Valley. The region is noted for being one of the last places in mainland Ireland to be connected to electricity and telephone networks.

Because almost one-third of all Kerry premises reportedly have no access to high-speed broadband, the location is ideal for Musk’s Starlink project. The company has been rolling out a beta service in the US and international locations, and its Irish pilot project has seen residents in west Cork and Kerry trial the technology.

West Cork’s call for help

Campaigners in the dead zone Knockawaddra, west Cork, received a trial kit from Starlink following a direct appeal to Musk for help. Local business-owners Emma Fitzpatrick and Lesley Cox were offered a trial of the beta service for one month.

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“We are hopeful that Starlink will solve our broadband problem in the short-term. In the longer-term, it is crucial that the National Broadband Ireland expedite the roll-out of fibre in our area. Rural communities are being failed by Government on access to broadband,” they said in a joint statement.

The connection problems in Knockawaddra came to a head during widespread Covid-19 restrictions, which saw these west Cork residents and many others struggling to conduct business and home-schooling online from home.

“The broadband speeds we currently have of 0.7Mbps were seriously letting us and the wider community down,” said Cox, who is a landscape artist and regularly needs to upload high-resolution images to her website. During the pandemic, she has also been hosting calls with galleries and clients over Zoom.

Her fellow campaigner Emma Fitzpatrick is a shiatsu practitioner and has been conducting online classes and sessions to keep her business going under Covid.

“None of this was possible with the poor and unstable broadband we currently have available,” said Cox.

SpaceX’s ambition is out of this world

Starlink’s global roll-out could cost as much as $30bn and it currently has 69,420 users worldwide, Musk told the Mobile World Congress in Barcelona last month. It is expected to reach half a million users over the next year.

To be a profitable enterprise, Musk said that the cost of manufacturing the terminal would have to be reduced. New users currently pay around $500 for a Starlink beta kit, which covers only half the manufacturing cost.

For consumers in rural Ireland not covered by the National Broadband Plan, incurring the additional costs of buying satellite services can be an unfair disadvantage. Under the suggestions of Fitzpatrick from the National Space Centre, grants and subsidies would help residents cover the cost.

Satellite internet is not the only thing on Musk’s agenda, however. Gwynne Shotwell, president and chief operating officer at SpaceX, said at a National Space Society event last month that SpaceX’s Starship programme is the company’s most exciting development from a “visionary space perspective”.

Starship’s ambitious programme aims to use SpaceX’s reusable space transportation system to “take people to other planets, the moon and Mars”. Shotwell said that July could be Starship’s debut orbital launch, while Musk said it could take months.

While SpaceX’s Starlink service may be the most practical development in the company in recent months for some, the thought of flying to the moon makes one hope. In other words, please be true.

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NUIG to spend €5m on research to help address global issues

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Several key research areas have been identified by NUI Galway to work towards for 2026.

NUI Galway’s recently launched research and innovation strategy includes a €5m investment on support for its multi-disciplinary research teams as they grapple with several global issues.

The strategy, which lays out plans for the university’s next five years of research, focuses on six areas: antimicrobial resistance, decarbonisation, democracy and its future, food security, human-centred data and ocean and coastal health.

“As a public university, we have a special responsibility to direct our research toward the most pressing questions and the most difficult issues,” said to Prof Jim Livesey, VP for research and innovation at NUI Galway.

“As we look into the future, we face uncertainty about the number and nature of challenges we will face, but we know that we will rely on our research capacity as we work together to overcome them,” Livesey added.

The plan focuses on creating the conditions to intensify the quality, scale and scope of research in the university into the future. This includes identifying areas with genuine potential to achieve international recognition for NUI Galway. It also aims to continue to cultivate a supportive and diverse environment within its research community.

NUI Galway has research collaborations with 3,267 international institutions in 114 different countries. The university also has five research institutes on its Galway city campus, including the Data Science Institute, the Whitaker Institute for social change and innovation and the Ryan Institute for marine research.

Its research centres in the medtech area include Science Foundation Ireland’s Cúram and the Corrib Research Centre for Advanced Imaging and Core Lab.

The university will also continue to involve the public with its research and innovation plans through various education and outreach initiatives. It is leading the Public Patient Involvement Ignite network, which it claims, will “bring the public into the heart of research initiatives”.

Another key area identified in the strategy report is the development of partnerships with industry stakeholders. NUI Galway has spun out many successful companies in recent years, including medtechs such as AuriGen Medical, Atrian, Vetex Medical and Neurent.

According to MedTech Europe, Ireland has the highest number of medtech employees per capita in Europe along with Switzerland.

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France hails victory as Facebook agrees to pay newspapers for content | France

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France has hailed a victory in its long-running quest for fairer action from tech companies after Facebook reached an agreement with a group of national and regional newspapers to pay for content shared by its users.

Facebook on Thursday announced a licensing agreement with the APIG alliance of French national and regional newspapers, which includes Le Parisien and Ouest-France as well as smaller titles. It said this meant “people on Facebook will be able to continue uploading and sharing news stories freely amongst their communities, whilst also ensuring that the copyright of our publishing partners is protected”.

France had been battling for two years to protect the publishing rights and revenue of its press and news agencies against what it termed the domination of powerful tech companies that share news content or show news stories in web searches.

In 2019 France became the first EU country to enact a directive on the publishing rights of media companies and news agencies, called “neighbouring rights”, which required large tech platforms to open talks with publishers seeking remuneration for use of news content. But it has taken long negotiations to reach agreements on paying publishers for content.

No detail was given of the exact amount agreed by Facebook and the APIG.

Pierre Louette, the head of the media group Les Echos-Le Parisien, led the alliance of newspapers who negotiated as a group with Facebook. He said the agreement was “the result of an outspoken and fruitful dialogue between publishers and a leading digital platform”. He said the terms agreed would allow Facebook to implement French law “while generating significant funding” for news publishers, notably the smallest ones.

Other newspapers, such as the national daily Le Monde, have negotiated their own deals in recent months. News agencies have also negotiated separately.

After the 2019 French directive to protect publishers’ rights, a copyright spat raged for more than a year in which French media groups sought to find common ground with international tech firms. Google initially refused to comply, saying media groups already benefited by receiving millions of visits to their websites. News outlets struggling with dwindling print subscriptions complained about not receiving a cut of the millions made from ads displayed alongside news stories, particularly on Google.

But this year Google announced it had reached a draft agreement with the APIG to pay publishers for a selection of content shown in its searches.

Facebook said that besides paying for French content, it would also launch a French news service, Facebook News, in January – a follow-up to similar services in the US and UK – to “give people a dedicated space to access content from trusted and reputable news sources”.

Facebook reached deals with most of Australia’s largest media companies earlier this year. Nine Entertainment, which includes the Sydney Morning Herald and the Age, said in its annual report that it was expecting “strong growth in the short-term” from its deals with Facebook and Google.

British newspapers including the Guardian signed up last year to a programme in which Facebook pays to license articles that appear on a dedicated news section on the social media site. Separately, in July Guardian Australia struck a deal with Facebook to license news content.

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Flight Simulator says Windows 11 has been downloaded on Xbox • The Register

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Boeing’s CST-100 Starliner capsule, designed to carry astronauts to and from the International Space Station, will not fly until the first half of next year at the earliest, as the manufacturing giant continues to tackle an issue with the spacecraft’s valves.

Things have not gone smoothly for Boeing. Its Starliner program has suffered numerous setbacks and delays. Just in August, a second unmanned test flight was scrapped after 13 of 24 valves in the spacecraft’s propulsion system jammed. In a briefing this week, Michelle Parker, chief engineer of space and launch at Boeing, shed more light on the errant components.

Boeing believes the valves malfunctioned due to weather issues, we were told. Florida, home to NASA’s Kennedy Space Center where the Starliner is being assembled and tested, is known for hot, humid summers. Parker explained that the chemicals from the spacecraft’s oxidizer reacted with water condensation inside the valves to form nitric acid. The acidity corroded the valves, causing them to stick.

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