At the IGF meeting this week, developing countries will try yet again to make their point about problems with Net access, while everyone else gallavants ahead with flashy new technologies.
I think one useful workshop would be to make everyone experience the Net the way, say, an African does. And, as luck would have it, I had a partial experience of this today in Athens, not five minutes drive from where the IGF will be meeting.
The hotel does not have wireless. It doesn’t have Ethernet either. It does have one computer in the foyer, but it won’t let my laptop use its connection. So in a desperate attempt to get online, check emails, post some stories and generally check up on all the usual things I check up on online, I went on a mission to get on the Net.
The only option is dial-up. But I have to get an Internet card first. My hotel doesn’t sell them. Nor does the kiosk near to the hotel. But the other kiosk over the main road does. Not a bad price – 10 euros for 50 hours online.
So: connect it all up, dial in, oh, add the outside line number and a comma to connect, provide the username and password and wait. And wait a bit more. And suddenly… pow! there you are sucked back into the Internet of old. The frustrating, infuriatingly slow Internet where email counts down slowly, where Web pages appear gradually, images slide into view and where if a website has Flash, you give up on it.
But things have also changed out there – the rapid increase in Net access speeds, at least in Western countries, have had a massive impact on what’s actually up on the Net. Alot of the sites I usually visit, I gave up on. I can’t follow my normal online routine because, well, it just takes too bloody long. In dial-up world, it’s no wonder no-one ever thought of tabbed browsing because if you open more than one page at a time, you might as well go make yourself a cup of tea and come back to it when it’s finished.
And of course just reading the headers of my spam emails (98 of them) was eating away at my time in the most infuriating fashion. Yet, there were sites that were usable, loaded fast, interacted quickly, felt normal. I was delighted to see that most of my own sites did. Although not all.
If the IGF really want to get across the issue of Access, during its main session, the hosts should restrict the connection to 56Kbps. And then ask people to do what they normally do online. That would probably achieve more than eight hours of talking.