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The Internet is a Utility

Posted by Andrew at 7:50 AM on March 11, 2012

Router and CablesLast week, I moved to a new Internet Service Provider (ISP). Nothing particularly unusual about that except that I had been with my old ISP, Demon, for nearly twenty years. That’s almost the whole of the my adult life and I’m sure it’s the longest customer relationship I’ve had. To be quite clear, I didn’t leave Demon as a dissatisfied customer and on the contrary, I would recommend them to anyone. So why did I leave?

To answer that, we’ll have to take a little trip down memory lane. Back in the early 90s, the 486DX2 was the CPU of choice, 8 MB was a lot of RAM, 120 MB hard drives were huge and dial-up modems were specialist items. JANET, the UK’s university network was the closest thing to the Internet, and it was email, ftp, telnet, Usenet and gopher. I imagine that some readers will be thinking, “gopher?” Never heard of that.

In 1992 and in an early example of crowdsourcing, Demon ISP was setup by persuading 200 people to pay in advance for a year’s dial-up access. I wasn’t part of that group but after publicity in the leading UK computer magazine at the time, Personal Computer World, I signed up for their £10 a month dial-up service. You had to buy your own modem in those days – no freebie wireless router – but it came with unlimited email addresses, 10 MB of ftp space and Usenet newsgroups.

Demon provided their own email package called Turnpike as this was all pre-Outlook, and a certain level of skill was needed just to get on-line. The connection software was a command line program called KA9Q that was originally amateur radio software. Winsock fortunately arrived shortly afterwards, which made life considerably easier with Windows 3.

One of the great things about Demon in the early days was that the support staff were technical folk too and quickly got the measure of the caller. If you said to them that you were having problems with DNS resolving, they’d understand that you had a reasonable grasp of the problem and work with you, rather than blindly follow the procedure written in the training manual.

Since then there have been many changes in the world of technology, not least the arrival of ADSL broadband, which single-handedly changed the web from geek toy to consumer product. In the end, two things conspired against Demon. The first was free web email such Gmail and Hotmail which meant that I no longer needed my ISP to provide me with an email address. The second was video-on-demand which had the twin impacts of volume and speed. My new ISP, Sky, offers twice the speed of Demon and no data caps for less money. Bit of a no brainer, as they say.

Demon provided a great technical service for geeks 20 years ago, but as the web has become a consumer product, the need for technical features such as ftp space has faded. All that is needed is the connection. The Internet has become a utility like water, gas and electricity, always there and always ready. No understanding of the technology is needed to use it, just as turning on a light doesn’t need knowledge of volts and amps.

I’ve no doubt that Demon has a successful future working with business but I think that the future of the independent ISP in the consumer space is bleak. People will choose consumer brands linked to utilities or telcos – Sky, BT, Virgin, Orange - and get one bill for multiple services at a reduced price…as I did.

Routers and Cables 2” image courtesy of BigStock.

Xbox Boosts On-Demand in the UK

Posted by Andrew at 3:42 AM on October 7, 2011

Earlier in the week, Microsoft gave the Xbox a big push in the race for HDMI 1 with Steve Ballmer announcing Xbox TV and partnerships with over 40 content providers. Jeffrey Powers has already covered the main announcement on GNC but I wanted to add a little bit of UK spin.

In the UK, additional programming boxes such as the Roku, Boxee or Apple TV are very rare. Most of my friends would enjoy their gadgets and technology but I don’t know a single one of them who has an extra box. However, many of them would have a games console and there’s a fairly even spread of Xboxes, Playstations and Wiis. Consequently it’s no surprise that the race to provide on-demand content is taking place on the consoles.

Most people in the UK are using the availability of on-line TV to catch up with programmes they missed when they were originally broadcast. What typically happens is that you go into work and some says, “Did you see…..last night? It was brilliant” and you watch the programme through the various free on-line services. The BBC’s iPlayer is very popular.

Reviewing Microsoft’s press release, here are the organisations that will provide on-demand content available in the UK on the Xbox. I’ve ignored the standard social networking sites, such as Facebook and YouTube, but have added the organisation’s background so that non-UK residents can get a feel for what’s happening.

In terms of the numbers, the traditional terrestrial and satellite broadcasters have the greatest presence and there’s only one major UK broadcaster missing from the list, ITV, which is a conglomeration of regional broadcast companies.
LOVEFiLM is owned by Amazon, Crackle is a Sony property and blinkbox is 80% owned by Tesco, one of the UK’s leading supermarkets.
The challenge will be to get consumers to pay for the on-line film rentals. Here in the UK, there is lots of good free programming which was originally broadcast but is now on-line through the broadcaster’s portals via tools similar to iPlayer. It will be interesting to see how the paid-for market develops and if the games consoles are key to the transition. It’s certainly where the media companies need to be for the UK market.