Some time in the early 2000s I recall thinking that it might be quite fun to have access to this internet thing that everyone was chattering about in the media. To be honest, I couldn’t really see much point but I’d heard that there was plenty to read and wonder at and with the recent cancellation of the British Journal of Labrador & Tweed decided it was worthy of cautious exploration.
Being ever the victim of fashion I travelled to our local retail park one Saturday and spent around £1000 (equivalent to £1.25m in 2012) on a brand new Apple iMac which promised “out of the box connecticity” to the world wide web. I was not to be disappointed: within mere months I was happily listening to the sound of my modem dialling some unfeasibly long number then passing a happy hour watching the screen build an early version of the BBC News website (in truth a photocopy of the script from the previous night’s Nine o’clock News).
Dial-up internet had all the speed and dynamism of a hibernating tortoise, but though we may mourn the fact that these crepuscular reptiles are no longer readily available in the UK, I suspect few of us miss the demise of the discordant modem contacting our ISP whilst we whiled away the long hours waiting for a connection (I can still remember the “tune” the infuriating thing “played” as it taunted me with line-by-line BBC website striptease).
Some time later I registered my interest with BT in their upgrade of our local telephone exchange so that we might be treated to the wonders of broadband. We needed only 4 million local signatories before this could happen (one of whom had to be the Secretary General of the United Nations) – but incredibly it did and I was soon checking my bank balance, sending e-mails (with actual attachments) and perusing the schedule of our local cinema all on the same day from the comfort of my spare bedroom. It was wondrous.
Eventually a change of job meant that the time came to move house. It’s true that our new residence was somewhat rural, but BT assured me that the wonderful new broadband would still be available. Imagine my despair on discovering that this had been a mere conspiracy (I suspect the estate agent had bribed them to falsely reassure us) and that we were once again back to the jingly-jangly world of dial-up, interminable waiting and frustrating dropped connections.
One Saturday morning I logged on to a comparison website searching for cheaper home insurance. After several hours of entering personal details and waiting for screens to load, Norwich Union was returned as the company for us. I think it might very well have been less time-consuming to actually drive the 400 miles to Norwich and back to obtain my quote in person. I complained to BT and eventually the broadband signal was switched on to our property.
To say our new broadband was slow was something of an understatement – I’ve seen funeral processions move faster – and the joys of You Tube and the BBC’s iPlayer were a long way out of reach, but at least it wasn’t dial-up and I could just about send an e-mail without printing it out, putting it in an envelope and sticking a second class stamp in the top right hand corner.
One day, we unexpectedly received a letter from local celebrity and leisure industry tycoon Carol Bowe teasing us with the prospect of superfast broadband in our area. Could it really be true? Could we possibly join the rest of the UK in the new millenium? Could Carol consider staying in the UK without jetting off on holiday long enough to actually make it happen?
Eventually we were lured to a public meeting attended by interested locals, Ms Bowe and her personal staff, North Yorkshire County Council’s NyNet team, CNN & Reuters and Nick Hall of Clannet whose company specialises in delivering broadband to rural areas of Yorkshire. It transpired that many attendees didn’t really understand the concept of Nick Hall beaming signals from property to property providing our own superfast network and linking back to NyNet’s optical fibre from a local school and thought that the term “broadband” referred to six middle-aged rockers who’d let themselves go a bit. After enduring questions such as “so would this mean that my computer would start up faster when I switch it on?” and “the timer on my immersion heater’s stopped working, could you possibly come and have a look at it?” I’d had enough and brought matters to a close by asking: “where do I sign?”
Working with Carol as our indefatigable broadband champion and Nick whose energy and enthusiasm are quite simply matchless, we formed the steering committee of The Vale Of Mowbray Community Broadband Project and within weeks receivers and transmitters were installed on our properties beaming broadband signals around our corner of North Yorkshire with fulminating speed. Nick’s commitment to our project (which has included dropping everything to repair downed transmitters on weekends and bank holidays) has been astonishing and those of us now enjoying catching up with iPlayer and QVC’s Today’s Special Value have much to be grateful for.
As I sit in my study happily comparing insurance quotes at breakneck speed I wonder what my internet-naive self would have thought had I been able to look twelve years into the future, seeing a world without noisy external modems, scanners, CD-ROM and floppy disk drives to a time when I could happily post cheesy home-made videos to You Tube (and to those in the know, I’m saying nothing about ducks, constipated or otherwise).