A long time ago, there was a common thread among those who were “digitally connected”. It was called the telephone line. Connect your computer to a modem and then the modem to the telephone line and your computer could call another computer and “communicate”. You couldn’t communicate all that quickly and the system was filled with weak points like rainy days and someone in the house picking up an extension and disconnecting you.
The fix was rather simple (although expensive); just rent a second telephone line. Many of us did to avoid that problem. Since I was paying for the second phone line to begin with, I ran my own Bulletin Board System (BBS) on it. Essentially, my computer sat there waiting for someone to call it, and when someone did, they would log into my computer and do whatever I let them. It was a hobby and there were discussion areas, file transfer areas, and electronic mail facilities. There were quite a few of us who did this. (519 BBS List)
When I realized that many of my computer science students had computers and modems at home, I set up a private area for them to discuss problems that were being solved and they could upload their projects to me. That way, I could mark them right at my computer instead of waiting until the next school day and doing it there. I never returned assignments over the system; it really was one way communication. I was very cognizant that this whole process showed a divide between the students that had the technology at home to do this and those that didn’t. I had to be very careful in my planning to make sure that everything was a level field when the day was done for all students. Quite frankly, it was fun and we really didn’t have a complete sense of what it was that we were doing or that it was a precursor to what we experience these days with the internet and modern Learning Management Systems.
But we stuck it out and learned a great deal in the process.
There were a few other BBS Systems in town and some of the bigger ones charged for access and some had multiple lines. A popular one was run by a student; it was called the Windsor Footnote and the operator was a gentleman named Clayton Zekelman. I think I met Clayton a couple times at get togethers but that was about it.
As we know, these are just fond memories for those of us who lived through them. For today’s student, it is very old school. (Did you notice the URL in the BBS link above?)
Today, if we choose, we just are connected. No more looking for a telephone line or the modem. Most devices are just connected wirelessly and the magic happens.
For many, that magic happens still over the telephone lines with internet connectivity provided that way. For others, it might be through cable connections, or some other manner. It’s interesting to see the discussions about how high speed internet should be a basic human right. So many Government services are provided in this manner so the argument makes a great deal of sense. For those who don’t have the ability at home, there’s always the public library. If you follow things around here, you know that our librarians have been on strike for six months now so that’s no longer an option.
The question becomes one of “how” to get it to the end user.
At one time, the telephone line was seen to be the answer. Then, cable had a better answer. But what about people whose telephone system is so dated that it can’t connect and cable is not an option? Here in Essex County, I know of at least three providers that offer a wireless solution. That’s how this humble computer user is connected. The service calls itself “high speed” which does beg the question. What level of service qualifies as high speed? I know that, for big updates, I have to leave my computer on and downloading over night to get the same thing that my friends with faster services get in a matter of minutes. It’s a matter of learning how to make the best of what you have. That’s why you’ll find me using advertising blockers and compression services like Google’s and Opera’s data saver/turbo modes.
There definitely is a big difference between what I can do and what my friends can do. I just deal with it.
But, that difference is becoming bigger. In the Windsor Star recently, this article appeared. “Local telecom company investing millions in fibre network“. Remember the Clayton Zekelman mentioned above? He’s now the owner of MNSi who is behind this initiative. The speeds quoted in the article just blow my mind. Right now, I pay far more for a fraction of those speeds. My reality is that I will never realize the enjoyment of Netflix or YouTube videos that just play. Netflix is certainly out of the question and I just get used to the fact that YouTube videos will often have to be enjoyed in pieces while the network does its best to deliver the content.
The gap between the haves and the have nots will certainly widen. Fibre does seem to be the answer for the best and fastest deliver of services. I had pondered at one time that the best and most universal delivery system might well be through the hydro lines but I guess I was just dreaming. The societal effects are very noticeable. Over the past while, we had a neighbour who had just a beautiful house but couldn’t sell it because all the buyers wanted fast internet to go along with the deal.
In the Windsor Star article, it’s interesting to read the comments from those that care to do so. There really is a demand for services like this and people would gladly pay for it. The big question is how universal can it be? Will it really become a human right for everyone?
It will be interesting to follow.
In the meantime, the gap will just continue to widen.