Help! I'm being held prisoner in the Tower!
It's not that bad, however. The Tower in question is the defiantly non-medieval BT Tower, and my captors are BT Wholesale -- the people who run the broadband network and DSL infrastructure that gets sold on by ISPs. Moreover, to compensate for this captivity they've laid on distinctly superior finger food and a bar crammed with Moet. As I'm observing the secular Ramadan of the January detox, the only fizz I consume is mineral water. But I do vicariously enjoy every drop of champers that my pals toss back. It's a bit like the start of The Big Sleep.
The cause for this elevated celebration is the launch of the DIY install ADSL service. Instead of waiting for a BT engineer to turn up and fiddle with your sockets, you get a DSL modem and a set of microfilters delivered. Plug the filters in between your existing phone equipment and the wall, and hook up the modem to whichever filter is most convenient. Your ISP then gets the DSL enabled at your exchange, and that's it. BT says that this should get a whole lot more people hooked up, and it should, although it'll be more exciting when you can go to a shop and buy the kit as you would an ordinary dial-up modem.
The pricing is pretty good, too. Wholesale, the installation cost has been reduced to £50 and the monthly charge to £25. Modems will cost around £100-£150 initially, although if things take off that'll drop -- and of course, you get to keep the modem when you move house.
Ten years ago, a 9600 bps modem would cost you £400. The phone bill for using the thing anything like as much as you'd like could easily reach that every quarter, and you could forget about music, video, Amazon, ten meg shareware games and videoconferencing with your aunt in Auckland. So: it costs half as much to get going and a quarter as much to use, for fifty times the speed and an infinitely bigger online universe to play in. Result.
These and other thoughts flow as easily as the fizzy water as I stare out across the London night from the 34th floor of the Tower. Looking at the millions of lights in offices and houses from Highgate to Croydon, it's hard not to get excited by the idea that an even more spectacular broadband city sleeps beneath, and the gates are swinging open. It's all three years later than I'd hoped, but it is happening.
Good thing I stayed off the champagne, or I'd have turned into Nicholas Negroponte. And then I'd really deserve to get locked up.