Broadband is big in the Australian news at the moment. Larry Smarr, from the California Institute of Communications garnered a lot of publicity as the latest international expert to criticise Australia's public internet infrastructure as too slow. Today the government responded to the opposition's broadband plans with one of their own. Also in today's Sydney Morning Herald was an article on the top tech capitals of the world which featured quotes from one of my managers and an ex-colleague.
The definition of reasonable broadband speeds seems to have changed to anywhere from ten megabits per second to one gigabit per second. At home I have a 512 kilobit per second download ADSL link. Do I find it too slow? Do I feel an urgent need to upgrade my internet speed? My answer is generally no. I download few files, most of my access is web browsing, emails, uploading scripts and remote desktop into work. It would be nice to try out Second Life with a faster connection, but my PC's are fairly slow.
There is a caveat. My work internet access is very fast. I'm on a research/academic network. If I need to download that Linux distribution ISO I can do that at work and copy it for installation on any other machine (and let's face it, in my case it genuinely is used for work). And I don't download large files often enough that it really makes a difference.
What would I do with "super fast" broadband? That depends on what applications are available and how much they want to charge for them. Streaming music is nice, so long as they play my genre and it's free, or close enough. The ability to download television programs on demand would be even better. That way if I felt like watching all the episodes of Red Dwarf over a weekend I could do so. But again the charges would need to be reasonable, far cheaper than the boxed DVD sets.
What I really want is fast, pervasive and cheap wireless access. I've been enjoying using my 3G mobile telephone for emails and web surfing, even remote internet access. The problem is that the data charges are so high. On one previous bill I spent more money on an hour's data access from the middle of Sydney than on a month's worth of global roaming in Asia.
Wherever I am I want to be able to access email and the web. More than that I would like to be able to "stream my life" to my handheld PC, phone or other device. That means being able to access my files, music collection, videos in the train, office, park, almost anywhere. And I want to be able to access them securely.
I wonder if the Australian government's broadband plans go beyond the computer. In the Asian countries listed in the top tech cities article the mobile phone is often the major internet access device. In fact, I recently read an article that said that many young Japanese are computer illiterate because they use mobile phones instead. I see the future as somewhere between those two systems. Or maybe using some entirely different device.