The Internet – a Ferrari on a boreen

I REMEMBER the first time I ever saw colour tv. It was in the early 1970’s, on the BBC. It stuck in my mind because there was a football match on and Newcastle United were playing.

What irony, the first thing I saw in colour was a team whose colours were black and white

It seems remarkable that technology was so advanced in those days. Remarkable, because if the transmission of those pictures were dependent on the technology of today – the internet – nobody would see any football.

All right, you would get to watch it. You would if you wanted to see it on a two inch square screen. You would if you waited a half an hour for a recording of the match to download. You would if you lived within 3km of a telephone exchange and the line wasn’t kinked.

Isn’t it extraordinary that the most vaunted technology of our times isn’t able to match technology of 40 years ago.

And why?

Because we don’t have the wires to carry the load. It’s as simple as that.

All the billions that have been lost in the internet gold rust; all the dreams and great ideas that have withered before our eyes; all the hype and bluster and spin; it has all foundered on the state of the copper wires coming into our homes.

The internet is too unreliable, too slow and too much trouble for the majority of people to use it to its potential. Given that the vast majority of people still use dial-up to access the web, it is amazing that it has got this far at all.

Almost every problem facing the internet has been solved. Software has been written to make the internet a doddle to use. Almost everything you can buy can be bought on the internet. Information on every conceivable topic in the world is there at your fingertips.

But because we don’t have the transmission system, progress on widening access to the internet is painfully slow.

The solution is broadband access. This means cables that can carry lots of data. The use of the word ‘broadband’ to describe what is being offered by the telecom companies at the moment is a travesty of the English language.

You couldn’t watch Newcastle United using the present ‘broadband’ (ADSL) system. You certainly couldn’t switch over to another channel at the same time. And as for widescreen…

What is required is a system to carry into every home and business about 100 times the capacity of the present ‘broadband’ system. This system will cost billions of euro to build.

This is what we need to think about if the internet is to work for everybody and reach its potential. It is as important now as the road system on which we also spend billions each year. (One could be an alternative to the other!)

And that is the mindset leap we need. Private industry will never undertake the investment needed to build the system we need. The Government will have to do it just like it built the phone system and the electricity grid.

The potential of the internet is enormous. It is waiting up there in cyberspace for us to download if we only had the wires to do it.