Thursday, November 19, 2009

The Technology Safety Net

We're constantly told that the SmartEconomy is the key to getting Ireland out of the doldrums. I generally agree with the idea, but not with the bulk of the documents associated with it. The facts about the smart economy, innovation and technology in Ireland would suggest that we have a long way to go to realise progression. For one, we have a relatively low level of broadband penetration in Ireland. The most recent figures show that about 58% of Irish households have access. The debate about the government doing more to help with the roll out is well advanced but to little avail in terms of action or policies. No doubt much progress is required on the demand side but the part of the 'build it they will come' nonchalance that is conveniently overlooked is the issue of price (As i recall that event was free). It's generally agreed that more needs to be done on broadband at this level.

Related to this is the issue of dissemination is household technology. CSO figures tell us that about 35% of households in the country don't have a computer! Imagine. With computing technology experiencing huge reductions in price it might be worth considering the feasibility of a tax-initiative to bolster demand among these households. If we can do a 'bikes to work' scheme then why not a 'computers to learn, connect, search, explore, find' scheme. The bike idea is capped at 1,000 euro (aside: surprising how many 800 euro imported bikes are being bought at the moment, given recessionary times!) and offered over five years, as i understand. It is available at both the higher and lower tax bands. The computer scheme might be targeted best at the lower band. Understandably, tax expenditures are not the flavour of the month but one has to wonder... if we're serious about the SmartEconomy and technology/information lead recovery then we need to be proactive and have national policy guide the way in practical ways. I don't think we need to read about the benefits of having a computer with internet access but it might be worth considering some for a moment - information, training, education, job-search, social connection. Even a basic-user level it's utility is clear and potential enormous. I think in any CBA it would look quite good against tax relief on a car scrappage scheme, to mention one wonderful idea thats out there at the moment.
I'd like to hear your thoughts on this, good, bad, or indifferent.

Finally, to declare a particular interest, one associated benefit that you may not be thinking of is the ability to participate in National Household Panel Surveys which are the backbone of statistics gathering in the 20 most developed countries internationally. Or should I say 21. Go Geary, go!


Kevin Denny said...

What is this Panel,a successor to ECHP? Is Ireland going to be in?

barry said...

Really interesting comments on technology adoption in Ireland.
Its the "Chicken and Egg" or "Portal and Access" paradox. My current work in financial innovation in provision of financial services in ireland has found a stark gap in broadband access, especially in rural areas. But do people have the home computing(portals) to access?
There is an initiative by the ILCU to encourage its membership's customers to have a computer in their homes. This began in 2007, and technology adoption in this sector has seen some improvements.
This is principally a good idea but would be more effective if shaped to include a material government incentive. The HCI in the UK back in early 00s may offer some ideas( although per unit computer cost reductions make this less viable today, and its incentives where targeted at employers). Also in the UK the Educational Technology Allowance voucher programme that is to be rolled out in 2010, which places incentives directly in the hand of users, may prove a more successful option for irish policy making.
Unfortunately any incentive option requires inevitable tax leniency, difficult task in current climate!!!

Peter Carney said...

@barry: Thanks Barry, appreciate the comment. I'll take a look at the ILCU and HCI schemes; i wasn't aware of them. I'm also looking to get more precise figures about Irish household computing from the CSO. It's most likely that there is a negative relationship with age and computer ownership, especially among the oldest groups. Notwithstanding, with ever rising educational levels among older cohorts, a national rate of 35% suggests a significant number of 'young' households, most likely rural, without access. Hopefully the CSO will be able to clarify. I'll post again when I know more.

By the bye, are you familiar with any tax-credit type incentives that have been used to target the unemployed? I had heard something of this before; I believe it was the Green Party here that suggested it. At any rate the Educational technology Allowance seems akin.

@kevin: I'm not aware of a new ECHP. The panel I refer to is the Geary Internet Panel of Irish Households which will be launched January next year. It is based somewhat on the successful Dutch panel (