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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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NFT trader OpenSea bans insider trading after employee rakes in profit | Non-fungible tokens (NFTs)

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A non-fungible token (NFT) marketplace has introduced policies to ban insider trading, after an executive at the company was discovered to be buying artworks shortly before they were promoted on the site’s front page.

OpenSea, one of the leading sites for trading the digital assets, will now prevent team members buying or selling from featured collections and from using confidential information to trade NFTs. Neither practice was previously banned.

“Yesterday we learned that one of our employees purchased items that they knew were set to display on our front page before they appeared there publicly,” said Devin Finzer, the co-founder and chief executive of the site.

“This is incredibly disappointing. We want to be clear that this behaviour does not represent our values as a team. We are taking this very seriously and are conducting an immediate and thorough third-party review of this incident so that we have a full understanding of the facts and additional steps we need to take.”

NFTs are digital assets whose ownership is recorded and traced using a bitcoin-style blockchain. The NFT market boomed earlier this year as celebrities including Grimes, Andy Murray and Sir Tim Berners-Lee sold collectibles and artworks using the format. But the underlying technology has questionable utility, with some dismissing the field as a purely speculative bubble.

The insider trading came to light thanks to the public nature of the Ethereum blockchain, on which most NFT trades occur. Crypto traders noticed that an anonymous user was regularly buying items from the public marketplace shortly before they were promoted on the site’s front page, a prestigious slot that often brings significant interest from would-be buyers. The anonymous user would then sell the assets on, making vast sums in a matter of hours.

One trade, for instance, saw an artwork called Spectrum of a Ramenification Theory bought for about £600. It was then advertised on the front page and sold on for $4,000 a few hours later.

One Twitter user, ZuwuTV, linked the transactions to the public wallet of Nate Chastain, OpenSea’s head of product, demonstrating, using public records, that the profits from the trades were sent back to a wallet owned by Chastain.

While some, including ZuwuTV, described the process as “insider trading”, the loosely regulated market for NFTs has few restrictions on what participants can do. Some critics argue that even that terminology demonstrates that the sector is more about speculation than creativity.

“The fact that people are responding to this as insider trading shows that this is securities trading (or just gambling), not something designed to support artists,” said Anil Dash, the chief executive of the software company Glitch. “There are no similar public statements when artists get ripped off on the platform.

“If Etsy employees bought featured products from creators on their platform (or Patreon or Kickstarter workers backed new creators etc) that’d be great! Nobody would balk. Because they’d be supporting their goal,” Dash added.



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British home computer trailblazer dies aged 81 • The Register

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Sir Clive Sinclair died on Thursday at home in London after a long illness, his family said today. He was 81.

The British entrepreneur is perhaps best known for launching the ZX range of 8-bit microcomputers, which helped bring computing, games, and programming into UK homes in the 1980s, at least. This included the ZX80, said to be the UK’s first mass-market home computer for under £100, the ZX81, and the trusty ZX Spectrum. A whole generation grew up in Britain mastering coding on these kinds of systems in their bedrooms.

And before all that, Sir Clive founded Sinclair Radionics, which produced amplifiers, calculators, and watches, and was a forerunner to his Spectrum-making Sinclair Research. The tech pioneer, who eventually sold his computing biz to Amstrad, was knighted during his computing heyday, in 1983.

“He was a rather amazing person,” his daughter, Belinda Sinclair, 57, told The Guardian this evening. “Of course, he was so clever and he was always interested in everything. My daughter and her husband are engineers so he’d be chatting engineering with them.”

Sir Clive is survived by Belinda, his sons, Crispin and Bartholomew, aged 55 and 52 respectively, five grandchildren, and two great-grandchildren. ®

A full obit will follow on The Register.

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UN human rights chief raises concerns over AI privacy violations in report

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‘AI tech can have negative, even catastrophic, effects if they are used without sufficient regard to how they affect people’s human rights.’

The UN’s human rights chief Michelle Bachelet called for a moratorium on the sale and use of artificial intelligence technology until safeguards are put in place to prevent potential human rights violations.

Bachelet made the appeal on Wednesday (15 September) to accompany a report released by the UN’s Human Rights Office, which analysed how AI systems affect people’s right to privacy. The violation of their privacy rights had knock-on impacts on other rights such as rights to health, education and freedom of movement, the report found.

“Artificial intelligence can be a force for good, helping societies overcome some of the great challenges of our times. But AI technologies can have negative, even catastrophic, effects if they are used without sufficient regard to how they affect people’s human rights,” Bachelet said.

“Artificial intelligence now reaches into almost every corner of our physical and mental lives and even emotional states,” Bachelet added.

Japanese multinational Fujitsu caused a stir when it announced plans to implement AI facial recognition technology to monitor employees’ concentration levels during meetings.

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The report was critical of justice systems which had made wrongful arrests because of flawed facial recognition tools. It appealed to countries to ban any AI tools which did not meet international human rights standards. A 2019 study from the UK found that 81pc of suspects flagged by the facial recognition technology used by London’s Metropolitan Police force were innocent.

Earlier this year, Canada banned Clearview’s AI facial recognition technology after the company violated Canadian privacy laws by collecting facial images of Canadians without their consent.

Bachelet also highlighted the report’s concerns on the future use of data once it has been collected and stored, calling it “one of the most urgent human rights questions we face.”

The UN’s report echoes previous appeals made by European data protection regulators.

The European Data Protection Board (EDPB) and the European Data Protection Supervisor (EDPS) called for a ban on facial recognition in public places in June. They urged EU lawmakers to consider banning the use of such technology in public spaces, after the European Commission released its proposed regulations on the matter.

The EU’s proposed regulations did not recommend an outright ban. The commission instead emphasised the importance of creating “trustworthy AI.”

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