Rupert Goodwins' Diary

Thursday 4/03/2004Nothing dates as quickly as visions of the future. That's amusingly ironic in a 1950s promotional film for plastics, but a pain in the Tupperware if you have to live it.

Thursday 4/03/2004
Nothing dates as quickly as visions of the future. That's amusingly ironic in a 1950s promotional film for plastics, but a pain in the Tupperware if you have to live it.

Take Milton Keynes, the entirely artificial and far-sighted City Of The Future built in the late 60s. It was going to be the model for the way we worked and lived into the 21st century -- roundabouts, roads designed in a grid system, cable TV, fibre-optic links, new-fangled aluminium phone lines, and concrete cows.

And here we are in the 21st century, and what is the key to the way we work and live? Broadband. Just not in Milton Keynes. Those innovative fibre optics and aluminium local loops don't do ADSL, the cable TV system is so remarkably antiquated that none of the modern cable broadband systems work with it, and even if you can get a copper, ADSL-friendly phone line the path it has to take through the grid system of roads is so long and tortuous it's too far for the standard to cope with.

Even where the city has attempted to embrace the past it's been to broadband's detriment: the Grand Union Canal, symbol of the first great communications revolution in the UK, bisects the place and is a tricky barrier to those who'd lay cables.

Only the concrete cows are guiltless in this sad tale of digital deprivation.

In short, the former city of the future is the next rural village of the past. This is a source of some distress to NTL -- the unfortunate company which picked up the cable system from BT -- which is busy putting up a tower that will relay broadband to the masses within a 10 kilometre range. Will this lift the terrible curse of narrowband from the good burghers of MK? Or will we discover that those cows are capable of emitting widespread interference that blocks even this salvation?

Watch this space.