Yesterday’s internet, today’s dependency

In today’s connected society, access to the internet is now assumed. Everything we do, from paying taxes, doing shopping, watching TV, doing our job – it’s all online, and it’s only going to grow in ways we can’t currently imagine or foresee. Just 10 years ago I had an ADSL ‘Max’ connection running into my home, providing a download speed of around 6Mbit per second, and 5 years before that I was one of the first ADSL customers in the UK with BT Broadband able to download at around 512Kbit per second – a huge jump compared to the dial-up modem of the 90s, literally 10 times faster (plus a lot quieter), marking out the very early foundations of the online social revolution.

Back to the present day, and I am now able to download at around 60Mbit per second through my BT Infinity connection (10 times faster than 10 years ago), or was, until my phone line went dead on Thursday. What is pretty much seen as a critical (or the 4th) ‘utility’ of the modern household, won’t be back online until Wednesday at the earliest. To be fair, I’ve probably got a bit more tech than most, and I recognise that broadband speed still varies greatly across the UK, but in my house no internet means no TV (Netflix/Amazon Prime/YouView/YouTube), no Music (Spotify/Google Play), no gaming (Xbox/PC), no remote working, and the central heating can’t check in for weather information / no remote access away from home (Nest), among other things. It is also fair to say I am not going to die due to lack of internet either, but just look how quickly our dependency on the internet has changed the way we run and operate our lives.

It also highlights a legacy that still exists – the phone line. I have a telephone number at home, but there are very few people who know it, and even less who ever call it, but the need to have one is still enforced because I need a fixed line internet connection. We’ve not got past needing to have a ‘full’ phone line, just to have a broadband connection – don’t get me wrong, I need the physical wire into my property which also needs to be ‘maintained’, but I don’t need the additional costs lumped into the line rental for services I don’t use, which itself goes up every year without fail. The cost I pay for broadband should be all inclusive.

Fortunately, I have a mobile phone with a 3G internet connection, which means all is not lost. Although the experience of accessing the internet over a 3G connection feels like I have gone back 10 years (but being very much more dependent on reception), I am able to get a level of access which does not significantly change the way I live and work day to day. While my own use of technology is higher than most, it’s also easy to see how most people can live without a fixed line connection. Research into this area is showing a year on year increase in the number of homes that have no phone line at all, as the use of mobile technology gradually negates the need for these services. With the advent of faster 4th generation (4G) data services, and beyond, what can be received over the air is becoming on-par with traditional fixed line broadband connections, except it’s with you everywhere you go and not just at home.