Since the dawn of time Mankind has been dominated by the need for speed. And every little boy at some stage dreams of the double-overhead cam-turbo-charged-fluffy-dice-and-go-fast-striped racer.
Back in my sailing days we used to live by the equation ‘G2B2’ – or translated ‘gotta get a bigger boat’. Come to think of it, we also used to describe our hobby as the equivalent of standing under a cold shower tearing up one hundred dollar notes.
It’s instructive to note my current involvement with information technology produces similar sensations. But I, like many technology users, remain committed to the notion of bigger, better, faster.
In my younger days the G2B2 theorem would likely not have produced much better results – I simply wasn’t a terrifically talented sailor when it came to cut-throat teenage weekend racing. But sitting in front of my computer, I enjoy a level playing field. The only talent I need is the ability to click my way across the Internet, and seek out and enjoy all the entertainment it offers.
At the beginning of the nineties my trusty 2400 baud modem helped me navigate, via a simple text interface, through library catalogues, online discussions and email.
Then the revolution came, the barricades were thrown across the town square and the laneway I so happily meandered down became the world wide web superhighway.
The web was a revelation, but eternally frustrating, turning off the image display option in my early version of Netscape was the only way to view sites at anything approaching a comfortable speed. It wasn’t long before a 28k modem took pride of place, quickly supplanted by a 33k, and by the mid 1990s, a 56k version.
Unfortunately web developers are a little like car thieves; as soon as the car manufacturers find a new way to protect a car, the thieves up the ante. So it is with the web. Every month the technology the web delivers becomes more sophisticated, more complex, and more entertaining.
The bottleneck between all of this content, and our computer screens, remains our internet connection and how fast the information can travel across the connection.
Enter stage left the latest buzzword ‘broadband’.
Broadband basically means the internet at really fast speeds. In fact it’s been around for quite a while, mostly if you worked in a university or some other institution which enjoys a big, fast connection to the Net. But for us mere mortals the cost of an Internet connection worth thousands of dollars a year rendered broadband a pipedream.
Enter stage right cable internet. Telstra and Optus spent the equivalent of the GDP of a developing country on laying two, duplicate pay television cables through the more heavily populated areas of Australia in the mid 1990s. (Don’t get me started on ridiculous political telecommunication policy decisions).
The cable doesn’t just carry endless re-runs of the Simpsons, but the internet as well. So if you are one of the lucky households, cable internet would have been a revelation. Speeds of up to 1 mega bytes a second, not bad compared with the old 56k modem. Plus you don’t need another telephone line, and it’s always on, no more dialing up and waiting for the too-often busy signal. Cable does have its drawbacks – the speed is affected by how many people in your area are using the Net at the same time. It’s a little like the old ‘party line’ telephone connections. Too many people talking simultaneously renders conversation unintelligible.
Enter stage centre ADSL. ADSL is basically the answer to everyone’s prayers. Try this for size: it uses your existing phone line, BUT you can be on the telephone at the same time. You don’t ‘share’ the connection, so top speed is, theoretically, always available. Speeds of up to 1.5 megabytes a second are possible, meaning you can watch crystal clear streaming videos. Indeed, with a variant called SHDSL, which is little like ADSL on steroids, speeds of 6 meg are possible (although the cost is high). Like cable ADSL always on, no dialing up.
The problem is, despite all the positives, ADSL has copped some bad press since its launch a year or so ago – mostly disgruntled Telstra customers who for some irrational reason found it unacceptable to be unable to log into their internet connection on a regular basis.
To Telstra’s credit a great deal of the early troubles have been ironed out, and the PR problems smoothed with refunds of monthly access fees.
Far more interesting is the explosion of companies now offering ADSL internet connections. Big retailers like Harvey Norman, and possibly Dick Smith Electronics, have weighed in, both to offer packages on-sold from prominent telecommunications companies.
For business users there is also the RequestDSL (www.requestdsl.com.au) network, who offer a range of high speed products through their network of resellers.
Here at The Dramatic Group we use a 1 meg RequestDSL SHDSL connection. It’s performed flawlessly since its installation, and as well as providing high speed internet access to our eight staff, handles the more than 20,000 emails a week sent out for the dramaticonline.com, and now screenhub.com.au, web sites. All at a speed some eight times faster and a price 10% cheaper than our old 128k ISDN connection.
For a complete list of ADSL providers see http://whirlpool.net.au/. Originally established as a gripe site for Telstra broadband customers, Whirlpool has grown to be an invaluable source of ADSL information, including comprehensive descriptions about the technology, services and ADSL companies.
There are a couple of caveats – mainly that ADSL is dependent on your distance from your telephone exchange, and it is only just becoming available outside the capital cities, meaning relief for regional and remote users may not be so close, although it is actually possible to have satellite based internet access for the truly desperate.
The world has shifted on its axis in the past six months. For more than half of the life of the web we’ve been constrained by our trusty 56k modems.
The new breed of broadband access will inevitably change the way we use and interact with the web. For arts organisations it opens up a marketplace capable of viewing multimedia content – performance, music, and information – in ways and at speeds hitherto impossible. At present the marketplace is small. The early teething problems mean that of the more than half of Australian households which have internet access, at best less than 200,000 have broadband connections.
The early content providers, such as internet radio stations, struggled to find a business model which could work in a tiny marketplace. Now new players are entering the marketplace, If you had been wondering what radio personality Doug Mulray has been up to lately check out thebasement.com.au, his video radio station based at Sydney’s popular music venue of the same name which broadcasts live concerts, along with a 24 hour music video station.
Beyond Online’s arts web site redkarpet.tv was launched earlier this year, and although initially only available to Telstra broadband customers, paid subscriptions are planned for later in 2002. Redkarpet.tv has access to the AFI library of films, plus other terrific content, and is leading the way showing what is possible.
With television broadcasters unlikely to reverse their inability to spell ‘arts’, and the ABC still constrained by budget and politics, broadband internet multimedia offers an unparalleled ability to deliver the arts to an audience remote from a venue.
And with the telecommunication heavyweights like Telstra spending millions on advertising ADSL, and a multitude of smaller players creating a competitive supply arena, growth in the available audience will be exponential, as Australians again jump on the new technology bandwagon and demonstrate their need for speed.
‘Click to Start’ is a regular column covering arts and technology issues, appearing fortnightly on dramaticonline.com and screenhub.com.au.
Figures released on 21 June 2002 from a report by the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission say ADSL connections have soared 206% between July 2001 and March 2002 to a total of 85,800, while cable connections increased 71% to 157,000.