Broadband brings broad benefits
The best thing about broadband is that it looks set to become part
of the furniture. That, briefly put, is the thesis put forward by
Frank Furedi, professor of social policy, sociology and social research
at the University of Kent.
At a time when the European Information Technology Observatory
(EITO) estimates that there will be 36 million ADSL lines in Western
Europe - including Turkey - by 2006, that might appear a rather
paradoxical thesis. There are, after all, nearly 10 times that many
people in Western Europe, and a further 75 million East Europeans
and others are due to join the EU in May.
The paradoxes increase. Furedi is a critic of capitalism. He's
best known for his mordant polemics against contemporary society's
weakness for panic attacks (Culture of Fear, 1999) and quack psychological
remedies (Therapy Culture, 2003). But in Always On, Changing Britain,
a major report put out by the European Policy Forum, he reckons
that the lack of regulation of the internet explains much of the
broadband explosion, and argues that regulatory pressures need to
be resisted. Furedi also provides a balanced note of optimism about
the potential of broadband. Narrowband, he contends, is tomorrow's
black and white TV.
As familiarity with internet research, email and e-commerce has
grown, so time at home with broadband has risen to 17 hours a week.
The number of Brits working from home for one day a week was nearly
a million as early as 1998, and those working sometimes at home
nearly reached six million. With broadband in 2004, Furedi maintains,
millions more workers are set to be doing some of their work at
With human communication being the killer application of broadband,
online communities are not nearly as important as the way in which
broadband supplements and complements the offline world. It "provides
the infrastructure for the maintenance of distant community and
family ties", Furedi observes, and by making work less location-dependent,
"may well facilitate tackling the problem of uneven regional
The relationship between the broadband and the offline worlds is
certainly more fruitful than the internet's critics allow. For every
Columbine massacre allegedly inspired by videogames, there are thousands
of deeper social contacts made with broadband.
Furedi believes that broadband will help overcome the isolation
of old people, and that this kind of benefit far outweighs the few
saddies and sickies on the web. He insists that new, risk-averse
regulations against "broadcasting" on the internet, and
digital rights management systems, will slow the development of
Society needs more such informed, non-technical and libertarian
advocates of broadband.
published in IT Week, 30 March 2004