In context

The Internet is now a teenager. A new medium has been born and reared by everyone, not just a handful of radio stations or television networks. Thus it has grown more rapidly than any other broadcasting medium there has ever been; it took just four years for the Internet to reach 60 million US subscribers. That compared with more than 30 years for radio and 13 for TV. Being entirely digital and also transparent to new technology, the Internet is now in a much stronger position than any of the old media.

This explains why many journalists are absolutely terrified of the Internet, hence all the flak it gets from them. Their naïveté is their demise. The Internet can already usurp radio, TV, and print and on top of them offer services that were not possible before. Existing and even new media networks, such as Sky, BBC and CWC's proposed digital television services, are part of the past.

Digital TV is a waste of time. It is far too little, far too late - it was essentially possible by 1983 and has been on the shelves since then! If the money invested in it was put into bandwidth instead, real-time video could easily stream on the Internet, making it an even more digital Digital TV.

This philosophy is what was behind The Microsoft Network. They predicted that people would 'veg out' in front of their computer as if they were watching TV. MSN was ahead of its time; the bandwidth wasn't there and users hadn't really adapted to the new medium. They still haven't; we are still only using the Internet for its most important and useful purpose, which is to get information and take advantage of services.

Now the Internet is beginning to metamorphose. The existing telephone network will slowly recede into the background and new carriers will take on the heat. These will be - at first glance - cable modems, Nortel's power line technology and BT's Home Highway, a form of ISDN. User bandwidth will suddenly jump from a few KB/sec to at least 256KB/sec on average - troughing at 64KB/sec with ISDN and peaking at close to 2MB/sec with power line access and cable modems without shared bandwidth. If the existing telephone network is good enough to listen to a 2KB/sec RealAudio file, 256KB/sec will easily handle full-screen RealVideo.

These new broadband services will be provided by big corporates, such as CWC and Nortel, who will become ISPs whether they want to or not. Figures such as £40 a month being banded around for these new services sound a lot, but are the same as the tariff for a full-blown Sky package - movies, sport and the rest. Yet by running such packages via the Internet infrastructure, users would be getting these packages on top of all the benefits the Internet already gives. So users will be paying the same for far more; they will see this and sign up, making the big corporates big service providers.

But what of the Internet Service Provider you're probably using now? Two-thirds of the Internet is served through 'traditional' ISPs. With new technologies, that majority will soon become a minority. ISPs with telephone modems will struggle to get new customers and will probably slowly decline.

Meanwhile the growth of the Internet will explode yet again, and the new providers will attract entirely new subscribers as well as bandwidth-hungry power users. The battles over getting users to sign up will not be fought over how many email addresses are offered, how much Web space is available, or whether or not there is a Quake server with low latency, but will be won and lost on bandwidth alone.

He who supplies the bandwidth, gets the gold.

(All I can add is that a recent US Department of Commerce publication is an essential read on this topic - Alastair)
Text by Julian Vallis

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