I used to work in radio, so it is with a bit of sorrow that I read a recent article that declared radio was becoming irrelevant to the coming generation. Instead of getting their music from this generation's DJ's, they're finding it on the Internet, as downloadable MP3s, burnable onto custom made CDs or stored digitally on portable players smaller than a deck of cards. As an old disk jockey, this makes me a bit sad, but as a techie, it's the first shot across the bow of the third phase of the Internet revolution.
The Internet Revolution, much as the Industrial Revolution more than a century and a half back, and the communications revolution of the 20th Century, is coming in fits and spurts, but in the end will change fundamentally they way we live.
This is a revolution we should actively be out in front of, because it will prove as important in this Centry as the TVA electrifying rural areas and universal telephone service was in the past Century.
The first phase of the Internet Revolution was the birth of the Internet. Most of the people who were "online" were either techies at computer companies or students at universities. They didn't mind sending emails with addresses that were several lines long composed of lists of computer names separated by "!". They used tools like "rn" to read Usenet news and "sendmail" to send mail and "gopher" to find files. Graphics were printable on a teletype printer and the only encryption was "ROT-13".
The second phase of the Revolution came with the invention of the World Wide Web and the commercialization of content. Web browsers became the way you saw the internet (often with things like email tools built in). Non-techies joined in as the PC revolution and Windows gave the masses access to machines that could handle still graphics and modems with adequate if not ideal speed. Big business discovered (or thought) money could be made on the 'net. Politicians learned donations and votes could be solicited. The beginnings of distribution of video and music were blocked by the limitations of the size of the "pipe" through which the data flowed.
Widening that "pipe" for all Americans and the capabilities it will bring will be the third phase of the Internet Revolution. The concept of separate Internet, phone and cable television will fade as all three will be digital data on the "big pipe", or as it's more commonly called, "broadband." Instead of coming to one place in your home, as even the current broadband does, you will be able to plug into the big pipe as easily as you currently plug into the electric or phone networks today, at outlets throughout your house. Instead of a PC being the only, generic way to access the Internet, custom appliances will use the network different ways: phones will use it as a phone line, TVs will access programming, a touchscreen in the kitchen may allow you to order groceries, a "music box" will play recorded and live audio streams, and it'll be used in ways we can't even imagine, just as every new tool invented by humans has brought benefits unimaginable when it was invented.
This revolution will come. Indeed, the first shots are being heard in the distance, So, the question facing us as Virginians is: should we sit back and wait for the revolution to find us, or should we get out in front and lead the nation into battle? I believe that, as we did in the last years of the 19th Century, in the first years of the 21st, Virginians should lead the way.
The market alone won't provide a solution because it isn't providing a solution. The phone and cable companies are cherrypicking areas of higher income and new infrastructure, and charging high prices for the access. This parallels the early years of telephones and electricity in the 19th and 20th Centuries. We can do better.
Our elected officials should propose legislation leading to the availability of "big pipe" broadband to every home in the Commonwealth. I'm not tied to any specific way of getting this done. It could be tax incentives, mandates, outright funding, some combination of the three or something completely different but I am determined that Virginia will lead the way.
This is not out of my personal desire for access or a techie's love of the latest and greatest gadgets but because history shows us, time and time again, that the leaders in a technological revolution benefit from being there "firstest with the mostest." Just as a good transportation infrastructure, a good electric infrastructure, a good communications infrastructure, and a good education infrastructure attract good businesses with good jobs, the state and community in that state that leads in Internet infrastructure will benefit with the increased tax revenues those businesses and jobs bring.
Thomas Jefferson might have been speaking of the Internet when he said,
"He who receives an idea from me, receives instruction himself without lessening mine; as he who lights his taper at mine, receives light without darkening me. That ideas should freely spread from one to another over the globe, for the moral and mutual instruction of man, and improvement of his condition, seems to have been peculiarly and benevolently designed by nature, when she made them, like fire, expansible over all space, without lessening their density in any point, and like the air in which we breathe, move, and have our physical being, incapable of confinement."
The third phase of the Internet Revolution will fan that flame into a brilliant blaze. Virginia should lead the way, and our citizens will see new things and make new discoveries in its light.