The Internet is almost ubiquitous. This week I am going to be speaking to farm planning students at the Ridgetown College of the University of Guelph. Interestingly enough, it will be like me staring into my own face 32 years ago. I’m going to be talking about vision and where exactly you want to go with your life. Part of that discussion will be about technology and how we all lived at one time without the Internet.
That should be an interesting discussion. I’m sure I’ll get a few blank looks, as many of our young people do not remember a time where they didn’t have wireless Internet access. In fact the Internet has become so ubiquitous, that even I can’t imagine that anymore. Think back to the times when I used a typewriter and delivered articles physically through a crack in the door, now that’s almost like remembering the Stone Age.
So this past week when the federal government said they were overruling a recent CRTC decision, which effectively banned unlimited Internet access, it was a measurement of where society has come. The Internet now is looked at as a public good, much like oxygen or at the very least clean water. It didn’t surprise me that there was a firestorm over the issue.
I don’t know what it was like when Al Gore invented the Internet. However, I was there at the beginning, long before most people. I remember hearing about a computer network that linked everybody in the world and I knew enough about computer technology to know how it worked. So in the early to mid-1990s I hooked into what is now called the Internet. Cost was always a significant factor to me and still is to this day.
I remember at the time I couldn’t quite figure out who was paying the cost for the Internet. I remember very clearly going to an early seminar at the University of Guelph and questioning the presenter regarding the costs. I demanded to know who is going to pay the long-distance phone charges to get on the Internet. He told me it wasn’t quite like that. I found it hard to believe. The next thing I knew I had dial up access to the Internet through a service provider in Chatham. I had no long-distance fees and suddenly I had a connection to the world.
Of coarse that connection to the Internet changed the world and changed me. Still, I always knew that the big oligopoly communications companies in Canada were charging too much for Internet access. This is especially true in the wireless mobile market in Canada where too few suppliers extort huge profits from consumers. It’s all related to wireless data costs over the Internet and it is a large negative to the digital economy in Canada.
That aside, from that time where I got my first dial-up connection, Internet access has spread like wildfire. It has become a public good. However, it’s always been a snake underneath the carpet. The big communication companies in Canada run a tight ship and this latest ruling from the CRTC would give them the green light to raise prices. That in effect would be a big negative to the economy and surely cause a political uproar. It didn’t take the Conservative government very long to squash that decision sending it back to the CRTC.
How this will play out in the future I don’t know. The Internet is evolving as I write. Canadians are starting to become heavier users, downloading movies, software and who knows what else. This has meant more data is being pushed through a finite bandwidth and there is a cost to that. Even the big Canadian communication companies see problems with that, a constriction of data through the pipe. New pipes will need to be built that cost money, which eventually consumers will have to pay for.
In the meantime there will be protests. You can bet that the CRTC decision would not have been thrown back to them if nothing were said. However, any semblance of a change in the ubiquitous nature of the Internet to Canadians is akin to taking hockey away from us. It’s hard to believe it’s come to that, but it has. The hard part for many computer rats will be actually getting off their duff and protesting versus tweeting about it.