BT's World Wide Whoosh
Last June I became number 939 of the 1,000 triallists for BT's ADSL trial. It is the first trial of a British broadband Internet service, presently only available in some areas of London and the south east. I started off with 2MBps (megabits per second) - almost five times as fast as today's modems (56k). That's the download speed, at which Web pages, emails and downloaded files reach your computer. It costs just pound;30 a month.
Amazingly, it all works off your ordinary phone line without affecting your calls. Goodbye to line splitters, second phone lines and friends complaining that they can't get through because you're online. Soon ADSL will be on offer across Britain.
Yet it's not just a question of the World Wide Whoosh replacing the World Wide Wait. Ultrafast, always-on access means that you really do have a world-class reference library on your desk. At last, your browser enables you to browse - not graze - thoroughly and satisfyingly. You can download documents in seconds which would take 15 minutes with a dial-up modem. There are endless teaching and learning resources available. Instead of that mountain of national curriculum and Department for Education and Employment documents on your desk, it takes seconds to get identical Adobe Acrobat versions to store on your computer.
Beyond transforming what you can do with a dial-up modem, ADSL and other broadband technologies such as cable modems offer an altogether better quality of experience. Instead of grainy little two-inch video clips, you get almost-broadcast quality video at half screen sze. The BBC has its entire Look and Read, Words and Pictures and Science in Action series on an experimental site for ADSL triallists. Goodbye, plastic video cases. Think about the teaching and training opportunities. There is already enough material on the Web to cover the entire national teacher training curriculum.
The biggest revelation, though, has been the hi-fi quality sound you can get via MP3 soundclip download sites like mp3.com. There's plenty of dross, but there's also enormous amounts of excellent quality classical music and talking books. I have a huge library of free classical and chamber music from Mp3.com. I run my own radio station, a playlist of mp3.com's tracks. By the time you read this, I should have succeeded in helping the first British schoolchildren's choir, the Ackworth Youth Choir, to start its own mp3.com site.
In the US, cable modem providers are starting to offer whole school districts low cost or free broadband connections, but this is England. Last November, BT downgraded the service to 256kbps while raising the price to pound;50 monthly. The cries of rage from the triallists' closed newsgroup practically scorched the foam off my mouse mat. Now BT has announced a 2Mbps school ADSL service for, wait for it, pound;2,500 a year, cutting out every primary and special school in the land.
But wait BT, there's still time to relent. Cut your ADSL prices to schools to the pound;30 or pound;50 a month you have offered the triallists, and be beloved of every teacher and schoolchild in the country, or stay as you are and be the Evil Empire of Internet Service Providers, roadblocking broadband access to the poorest and weakest in the land. Well, BT, which is it to be?
Judy Keiner is an education consultant