For just under three years - our birthday is on 1 March - the Campaign for Unmetered Telecommunications has pushed for unmetered Internet access to be available to everyone in the United Kingdom. We have won the argument as such unmetered access is becoming widely available, in sustainable terms, through Internet Service Providers such as AOL UK, BT Internet and Freeserve with other ISPs joining in in the next few months.
Despite recent exaggerations in the media about 'the demise of the Internet', if you are a small business you can, in principle, reach anyone in the world who is interested if you have something worth selling, produce a good Web site to help promote it and make sure search engines and Web directories know you exist so that people can find you. That is why the Internet matters, and will always matter, to you.
Why, specifically, unmetered access? Before now Internet access, in the United Kingdom, was metered - you paid by the minute for your time online. The only sensible occasion for being limited by time when buying something is when you win a competition and are given five minutes to rush round a supermarket and grab as much as you can. Paying by the minute to, among other things, browse an online catalogue is an absurdity.
Not only is unmetered access the sensible way to use the Internet, it allows so much more to be done. Although this is true when using the (narrowband) telephone modem it is even more true with broadband Internet access which is intended to give a reliable, permanent, unmetered connection and, at the moment, is roughly ten times faster than the telephone modem with even better to come. The author, for three years, had narrowband unmetered access then recently switched to one of the two extant broadband technologies (ADSL, the other being the cable modem). He was surprised to find out not that he does what he previously did in less time but that he is doing far more in more time online.
And what an opportunity for estate agents this new world of unmetered narrowband and broadband Internet access gives! Most people have trouble visualising a three-dimensional object from a two-dimensional plan, yet most relevant Web sites offer that, a few photographs and some descriptive text at most. The opportunities for allowing people to walk through a virtual model of the house they intend to buy and to see, for example, how much light different rooms get at different times of the day are huge and, at the moment, barely touched on. It is unlikely that people will ever buy houses without physically looking at them, but the possibility of giving a good idea what to expect, thus cutting down on wasted journeys and frustration, is surely too tempting to miss.
Given that we have won the argument for narrowband unmetered access, we now turn to broadband access. The technologies are fairly new so there are technical glitches and a lot of logistical problems. Broadband access is also too expensive at the moment, and we will be pushing for improvements on all fronts.
More importantly, the methods of initiating, carrying and receiving voice and data transmissions will change completely over the next few years, with the current switched telephone network moving to Internet Protocol, a new way of doing things which will allow existing services to be made more efficient and new services to be developed, many of which have probably not even been thought of yet. In some ways this change is as significant to the national infrastructure as the coming of the railways one hundred and fifty years ago: the Campaign will be involved, with regulators, telecommunications operators and others, in defining this new Jerusalem, and there is much to look forward to.