Ofcom, the new communications regulator, marked its birth this week with a move to bring high-speed internet access to rural communities by wireless to prevent them falling behind in the information revolution. If successful, this will enable villages and country towns to download data, including video transmissions, at up to 1Mb of data a second – or twice the speed of most fixed-line broadband connections.
Not so long ago BT was being bashed for not making broadband widely enough available. Now that it appears to have got its act together the stakes are raised to cabling the country with fibre (Leaders: Show some fibre, December 31, 2003). Of course, this is desirable and logical. But let’s get our priorities right, and think about ends as well as means.
There are three elements to connectivity: speed (really, bandwidth), widespread access, and ready availability (an element of which is being ‘always on’). The latter two elements are facilitated by the burgeoning wireless sector (using GPRS, 3G and WiFi) and existing broadband (ADSL and cable). We have barely begun to explore these possibilities – or the speed offered by existing broadband. In fact, there is a lot that can be done with just a few bits of data, as we have seen with instant messaging and SMS.
[W]e should be working out the appropriate combinations of hardware, software and services that will allow people to exploit the Internet in new and imaginative ways
Certainly, we should be planning for higher speed access, but for more imaginative ends than ‘video transmissions’. At the same time we should be working out the appropriate combinations of hardware, software and services that will allow people (at home, at work, and elsewhere) to exploit the Internet in new and imaginative ways. These uses will likely focus more on collaboration, communication, and utilities than content delivery. This is the challenge we are putting off while we keep demanding more bandwidth.
Sent for publication to the Guardian newspaper (UK)
Also and originally published at spy.typepad.com.