James T Kirk and Bart Simpson may seem a curious duo to reform the country's data infrastructure, but unlike with Sian Lloyd in winter, the forecast is looking good. A combination of factors — efficient TV over IP, ever-increasing bandwidth and the growth in interactivity — has made broadcasters look at broadband as more than just a Web site delivery mechanism.
Sky is rumoured to be passing the begging bowl around the bond market in search of up to a billion quid to spend on an ISP. With that and aggressive deployment of unbundled local loop DSL, the company could neatly bypass the other players in the new consumer digital infrastructure and deliver what it likes at a price it sets.
If that just meant Homer on demand, then the repercussions for the UK wouldn't extend much beyond a better way for the night shift to unwind — as if they weren't BitTorrented to the gills already. But there are greater implications.
The upcoming wave of IP-based consumer video services will make far greater demands on Net infrastructure than anything most of the corporate sector can dream up. With high-definition TV, the end point is delivery of 30Mbps low-latency streamed video to twenty million households — figures that still make the eyes water, but no longer ones that seem beyond affordable technology.
Moreover, that figure remains the same whether you want to choose between five channels and five hundred: there's only limited room to sell it as a gold-plated option. In the same way that broadcast radio and the telephone system created the electronics industry, a ubiquitous superfast national network will provide both infrastructure and opportunity for new business models, both B2B and B2C.
The chances of the existing incumbents letting Sky come in and build such a system unchallenged are close to zero, even if they have little taste for investing further tranches of cash. The questions of who, what, when, why and how much will unfold entertainingly enough over the next couple of years: the whether forecast is settled.