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Fast, reliable broadband … it’s now a key selling point for house hunters | Broadband

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It used to be that demand for homes centred on the proximity to good schools, or how close they were to a nice restaurant or pub. Now, before they sign on the dotted line, homebuyers want to ensure they can download a film quickly, or check their work emails without interruption.

Access to reliable and fast broadband is one of the key priorities as working from home looks set to become a more permanent arrangement for many. And a surge of interest in people wanting to move to the country has been coupled with demand for good internet in areas that might otherwise have weak connections.

“One of the most frequently asked questions we receive is related to the speed of the broadband,” says Julia Robotham, of Knight Frank’s country department.

“We have even seen a number of telecoms companies arrange to visit properties, prior to exchange, to discuss ways in which they can make working from home more effective.”

The big shift: working from home makes it new priority

Research from online estate agency Purple Bricks found 41% of people rank internet speed as an important priority when buying a home, more than how close they are to a school, or being near somewhere good to eat, up significantly since 2016.

Separate research by Knight Frank found that almost two thirds of people think it is even more important than having outdoor access, being near a tube station or having the ability to extend.

Ernest Doku of comparison site uSwitch says: “The shift has seen broadband repositioned in the homeowner’s mind as being an essential utility – as one would view gas or electricity, due to the fact that we need to work from home.”

But getting access to proper functioning broadband is not always simple, especially the further away from urban centres you get.

Making next-generation gigabit broadband available across the country by 2025 was a key promise of Boris Johnson’s election manifesto, but the ambitions were watered down to 85% coverage.

Last year, the telecoms regulator Ofcom said there were almost 200,000 “forgotten homes” across the UK, left behind in the government’s digital revolution, and unable to get broadband speeds deemed the minimum to meet a modern family’s needs.

Of these, 119,000 were in England, 34,000 in Scotland, 18,000 in Wales and 19,000 in Northern Ireland.

While most of the country has access to high-speed broadband in theory, the reality is that available speeds vary considerably between areas and even on the same street, and are dependant on how close a home is to a broadband cabinet.

Dan Howdle from comparison site Cable.co.uk says that once a property is about 800 metres away from a cabinet, the speed deteriorates. Up to that point, homes will be able to get the average advertised speed.

He says: “The further you are from the nearest cabinet with the current technology, the less speed you are going to get,” he says. “That is why you get a lot of situations where you have villages or towns served by fibre broadband, but those who live further out from the centre, or where the nearest exchanges are, still have slow broadband, regardless.”

There can even be significant differences in houses on the same street because some parts may be serviced by one cabinet and another by a different unit which is further away, says Howdle.

Figures from Ofcom show the fastest average speeds are in Molescroft, near Kingston upon Hull in Yorkshire and the Humber, where almost 98% of homes received over 30Mbps. The slowest were in Braintree, Essex where just under 50% of households have been found to have speeds under 10 Mbps.

If you are buying a home, you can work out how good the broadband connection is using an online speed checker. These are available through uSwitch, Ofcom and Cable.co.uk, among others. Entering a postcode on one of these websites will quickly reveal the area’s broadband speed.

Beware of running a speed test on your phone when connected to wifi in a property, as this may be interfered with by other wifi connections in the area and will not give the full picture as to how fast a land connection will be.

How do I improve my connection?

“You are at the mercy of the line going into your house,” says Howdle. But that is not to say that all is lost if you have a slow connection. Look around to see if other providers can give a better performance. Doku says that some people may be stuck on a “stock product” but that there will be alternatives, possibly faster.

Another option is to use a 4G or 5G router. This way you can be connected via a mobile phone signal.

Some areas with poor broadband may have a good mobile signal. Three is advertising a 4G hub for £22 per month, and a 5G for £29, and promises next-day delivery.

EE has a 5G router for £50 a month with a £100 upfront cost and a 4G option from £13 a month.

If your dream new home is on a hillside in the Highlands, with no options for broadband or mobile connection, you could opt for satellite broadband. This involves the installing a dish, similar to those used for satellite TV. This will connect to a satellite that will send a broadband signal.

Comparethemarket puts the price at between £20 and £87 a month with steep set-up costs that can come to £600.

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Google delays execution of deprecated Chrome extensions • The Register

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Google has delayed its browser extension platform transition for enterprise customers, giving those using managed versions of Chrome with the deprecated Manifest v2 (MV2) extensions an extra six months of support.

The Chocolate Factory has also redefined its deadlines for general Chrome users to make the transition to the new platform, called Manifest v3 (MV3), less of a shock to the system.

“Chrome will take a gradual and experimental approach to turning off Manifest V2 to ensure a smooth end-user experience during the phase-out process,” explained David Li, a product manager at Google, in a blog post. “We would like to make sure developers have the information they need, with plenty of time to transition to the new manifest version and to roll out changes to their users.”

Chrome will take a gradual and experimental approach to turning off Manifest V2 to ensure a smooth end-user experience

Developers, in other words, need more time to rewrite their extension code.

Previously, as of January 2023, Chrome was to stop running MV2 extensions. Enterprise managed Chrome installations had an extra six months with MV2, until June 2023.

The current schedule says MV2 extensions may or may not work in developer-oriented versions of Chrome used outside of enterprises. “Starting in Chrome 112, Chrome may run experiments to turn off support for Manifest V2 extensions in Canary, Dev, and Beta channels,” the timeline says.

And then in June 2023, MV2 extensions may or may not get disabled in any version of Chrome, including the Stable channel used by most people.

New MV2 extensions could no longer be added to the Chrome Web Store in June 2022, and that remains unchanged under the new roadmap; MV2 extensions already available the Chrome Web Store can still be downloaded and can still receive updates.

As of June 2023, MV2 extensions will no longer be visible in the store (so they can’t be newly installed, but can still be updated for existing users).

Come January 2024, nothing will be left to chance: the Chrome Web Store will stop accepting updates to MV2 extensions, all MV2 extensions will be removed from the store, and the MV2 usage in enterprises will end.

Li suggests developers make the transition sooner rather than later “because those [MV2] extensions may stop working at any time following the aforementioned dates.”

In recognition of the confusion among developers trying to adapt their extensions to MV3, Li said Google has implemented new APIs and platform improvements and has created a progress page to provide more transparency with regard to the state of MV2-MV3 transition.

Since 2018, Google has been revising the code that defines what browser extensions can do in Chrome. Its outgoing architecture known as Manifest v2 proved too powerful – it could be used by rogue add-ons to steal data, for example – and Google claimed use of those capabilities hindered browser performance. Critics like the EFF have disputed that.

Coincidentally, those capabilities, particularly the ability to intercept and revise network requests based on dynamic criteria, made Manifest v2 useful for blocking content and privacy-violating tracking scripts.

Under the new Manifest v3 regime, extensions have been domesticated. As a result, they appear to use computing resources more efficiently while being less effective at content blocking.

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Whether or not this results in meaningful performance improvement, the MV3 change has been championed by Google for Chrome and the open source Chromium project, and is being supported by those building atop Chromium, like Microsoft Edge, as well as Apple’s WebKit-based Safari and Mozilla’s Gecko-based Firefox.

However, Brave, Mozilla, and Vivadi have said they intend to continue supporting Manifest v2 extensions for an indeterminate amount of time. How long that will last is anyone’s guess.

Brave, like other privacy-oriented companies and advocacy groups, has made it clear this regime change is not to its liking. “With Manifest V3, Google is harming privacy and limiting user choice,” the developer said via Twitter. “The bottom line, though, is that Brave will still continue to offer leading protection against invasive ads and trackers.”

With Manifest V3, Google is harming privacy and limiting user choice

Google, on its timeline, suggests MV3 is approaching “full feature parity with Manifest V2.”

Extension developers appear to be skeptical about that. On Friday, in response to Google’s timeline revision posted to the Chromium Extension Google Group, a developer forum member who goes by the pseudonym “wOxxOm” slammed Google for posts full of corporate lingo about safety and security and pushed back against its statement about feature parity.

“[T]his definitely sounds reasonable if you don’t know the context, but given the subsequently plotted timeline it becomes a gross exaggeration and a borderline lie, because with the progress rate we all observed over the past years it’ll take at least several years more for MV3 to become reliable and feature-rich enough to replace MV2, not half a year or a year,” wOxxOm posted.

“Neither the issue list nor the announcement acknowledge that MV3 is still half-broken and unusable for anything other than a beta test due to its unreliable registration of service workers that break extensions completely for thousands of users, soon for millions because no one in Chromium has yet found out the exact reason of the bug, hence they can’t be sure they’ll fix it in the next months.”

This may not be the last time Google revises its transition timeline. ®



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Irish Research Council pumps €27m to fund next generation of researchers

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A total of 316 awardees of the IRC’s Government of Ireland programme will receive funding to conduct ‘pioneering’ research.

Postgraduate and postdoctoral researchers in Ireland are set to get €27m in funding from the Irish Research Council (IRC) through its flagship Government of Ireland programme.

In an announcement today (30 September), the IRC said that a total of 316 Government of Ireland awards will be given to researchers in the country, including 239 postgraduate scholarships and 77 postdoctoral fellowships.

Awardees under the scheme will conduct research on a broad range of topics, from machine translation and social media to protecting wild bee populations and bioplastics.

“The prestigious awards recognise and fund pioneering research projects along with addressing new and emerging fields of research that introduce creative and innovative approaches across all disciplines, including the sciences, humanities and the arts,” said IRC director Louise Callinan.

Awardees

One of the science-focused postgraduate awardees, University of Galway’s Cherrelle Johnson, is working on the long-term sustainability of bioplastics as an alternative to fossil fuel-based plastics.

Another, Royal College of Surgeons in Ireland’s Tammy Strickland, is studying the role of the circadian rhythm, or the sleep-wake cycle, of immune cells in the brain in epilepsy.

Khetam Al Sharou of Dublin City University, one of the postdoctoral researchers to win the award, is looking into the use of machine translation in social media and the associated risks of information distortion.

Meanwhile, Robert Brose from the Dublin Institute for Advanced Studies is investigating the particles and radiation that are emitted by high-energy sources in our milky way to try and find the most likely sources of life.

Diana Carolina Pimentel Betancurt from Teagasc, the state agency providing research and development in agriculture and related fields, is looking for natural probiotics in native honeybees to mitigate the effect of pesticides.

“Funding schemes like the IRC’s Government of Ireland programmes are vitally important to the wider research landscape in Ireland, as they ensure that researchers are supported at an early stage of their career and are given an opportunity to direct their own research,” Callinan said.

53 early-career researchers across Ireland got €28.5m in funding last month from the SFI-IRC Pathway programme, a new collaborative initiative between Science Foundation Ireland and the IRC. SFI and IRC are expected to merge to form one funding body in the coming years.

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Molly Russell died while suffering from effects of online content, coroner says | Internet safety

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Molly Russell, 14, died as a result of self-harm when she had depression and was suffering from the “negative effects of online content”, a coroner has ruled.

The senior coroner Andrew Walker made his ruling as an inquest into the teenager’s death came to a conclusion at north London coroner’s court on Friday. The inquest had heard that Molly, from Harrow, north-west London, had interacted with large amounts of harmful social media content in the final months of her life.

The two-week inquest focused on Molly’s use of Instagram and Pinterest. Executives at both US-based companies gave evidence at the hearing, which showed how Molly had viewed graphic content in the months before she killed herself in November 2017.

Concluding it would not be safe to rule Molly’s cause of death as suicide, Walker said some of the sites viewed by her were “not safe” because they allowed access to adult content that should not have been available to a 14-year-old.

“It is likely that the above material viewed by Molly, already suffering with a depressive illness and vulnerable due to her age, affected her in a negative way and contributed to her death in a more than minimal way,” said Walker, delivering his findings of fact at the inquest.

In his conclusion, he said Molly “died from an act of self-harm whilst suffering from depression and the negative effects of online content”.

Speaking outside the court, Molly’s father, Ian Russell, 59, said: “In the last week we have heard much about one tragic story – Molly’s story. Sadly, there are too many others similarly affected right now.

“At this point I just want to say, however dark it seems, there is always hope. And if you’re struggling, please speak to someone you trust or one of the many wonderful support organisations rather than engage with online content that may be harmful. Please do what you can to live long and stay strong.”

Molly viewed more than 16,000 pieces of content on Instagram in the final six months of her life, of which 2,100 were related to suicide, self-harm and depression. The inquest also heard how she had compiled a digital pinboard on Pinterest with 469 images related to similar subjects.

Elizabeth Lagone, the head of health and wellbeing policy at Meta, the owner of Instagram and Facebook, apologised and admitted Molly had viewed posts that violated its content policies.

A senior Pinterest executive also apologised for the platform showing inappropriate content and acknowledged that the platform was not safe at the time Molly was on it.

The inquest heard evidence from a child psychiatrist, Dr Navin Venugopal, who said Molly had been “placed at risk” by the content she had viewed. The headteacher at Molly’s secondary school also gave evidence, describing how it was “almost impossible” to keep track of the risks posed to pupils by social media.

The chief executive of the child protection charity the NSPCC, Sir Peter Wanless, said: “The ruling should send shock waves through Silicon Valley. Tech companies must expect to be held to account when they put the safety of children second to commercial decisions. The magnitude of this moment for children everywhere cannot be overstated.”

The Russell family have become prominent campaigners for internet safety since Molly’s death and attended the inquest throughout.

In a pen portrait of his daughter that opened the inquest, Molly’s father paid tribute to a girl “full of love and hope and happiness”. He said she had been “struggling with her mental health and hiding her struggles from the rest of us while she battled her demons in the hope of finding peace”.

He added: “It is ‘OK not to be OK’ and … it is important to talk to someone trained or qualified whenever it is needed.”

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