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Rupert Goodwins' Diary

This week: The 64k raspberry, The Bantam Tennis, the Lord Chancellor's warring children, aliens sighted in Kennington and ADSL's real significance for BT's strategy.
Written by Rupert Goodwins, Contributor on

Monday 7/6/1999

Aha! Interesting email from a distant correspondent reveals that they were slipped a BT internal briefing on a new service to be launched on Tuesday. As you'll know if you've read our news service (though quite possibly not if you rely on BT to tell you about things), this is BTnet Start. 64k leased line, IP, no security, permanent connection, three grand a year, blah blah blah. It is, as BT will point out if pressed, under half the price of previous 64k permanent connectivity.

It's not much of a scoop, since I get the message about twelve hours before the official launch, the pricing details have been online for a month and, it turns out, BT had already quietly set up a web site about it. But we get the story online before the launch, so that's something. You'd think that BT halving the price of a service would be welcomed by the masses. Not a bit of it.

I get message after message from readers -- more than for any other story I've run this year -- saying "Those bastards! How dare they charge three thousand pounds for a 64k connection? I suppose I'll get it 'cos my annual ISDN bill is more than that, but really. What a cheek."

The level of frustration out there is huge. The level of patience with BT is very limited indeed. The awareness of the cost of connectivity elsewhere in the world is very high. I hope notes are being taken...

Tuesday 8/6/1999

It's a good thing I'm a law-abiding citizen and thus dismiss without a second thought any temptation to buy the 2 CD set of Star Wars: The Phantom Menace which is allegedly around having been allegedly downloaded from an alleged site just ahead of the forces of Laura Norder. Over to our shady MPEG reviewer, M@ WaReZ-D00d

"It's, like, awesome, m8. You can hear the crowd chattering at the beginning and everything. And the sides are cut off, and the sound's a bit naff to start with, and there's some dodgy digitising effects like in the sky and all."

And the movie?

"Oh. 'sgreat. Can't wait to see it in the cinema.'

If you ask me, Lucas should've just put the whole thing up on the web site and given the CDs away on magazine covers. Nobody I've spoken to who's seen it -- and it seems about as difficult to get as a copy of Internet Explorer -- has treated it as anything other than a rather long trailer that really piques their interest. Given Hollywood's habit of bunging the best bits in the trailer anyway, it's not that big a step -- and the quality of the effects on the computer screen just scream out to be seen on the big screen.

Wednesday 9/6/1999

A talk with a friend about the terrible state of the health service's intranet (NHSnet -- very expensive, because it uses X.400 and payment-per-kilobyte charging. And it won't run with ordinary PCs. Set up for the benefit of entrenched supplier interest, rather than cost-effective health service support. The government, as so often with IT, was thoroughly duped. And if BT and C&W wish to argue against that, they're more than welcome to talk to me about it. They didn't want to last time I tried to find out what was going on.)

My friend sighs. "It's going to happen again, you know..."

It turns out that there's a popular idea in government at the moment for the collecting together of various advice agencies and making a lot of knowledge available on the Internet and via kiosks. A sort of cyber citizens' advice bureau. Good, eh? However, it's such a popular idea that two or three government agencies (at least) are hatching it and they're not talking to each other.

Take for example the Lord Chancellor's Office -- or LCO, to give it its Sir Humphrey appellation. This is concerned with various matters at the heart of government, not least all that law business. It has a unit called Civil.Justice, which is part of the Government Direct initiative (you can guess what all that's about). Then there's the Community Legal Service department, which is concerned with 'access to justice'. Both are planning online databases of law info and advice, both know the other's doing the same, neither will even talk to each other. And then there's NACABS -- the National Association of Consumers' Advice Bureaux, which is busy setting up a network of kiosks with Lottery money. Meanwhile (keep up at the backl) the Consumer Affairs bit of the DTI is thinking strategic thoughts about rationalising consumer advice. White paper in July, apparently, with minister Kim Howells (you know: "I am an anarcho-liberal and I buy books from Amazon". That Kim Howells) jumping up and down and muttering "One Stop Shop! One Stop Shop!"

"There really has to be just one system" said my friend, "but everyone wants to own the gateway and nobody's backing down. What price joined-up government now?"

Thursday 10/6/1999

A report comes back on "Flow My Tears, The Policeman Said", a play based on the Philip K Dick book of the same name. It's playing down at the Oval, Kennington, and "it's not half bad" say the theatregoers. Those familiar with PKD's oeuvre will know that the man's fractured amphetamine-paranoia writings are hard enough to make sense of on the page: adapting them for the stage seems impossible. But Fifth Column, the group responsible, do a great job -- all the best lines from the book are in, and Dick's copious problems with reality come shining through. More laughs than expected, too: it would make a damn fine TV drama.

We're not sure, though, about the significance of the Seti@Home screensaver -- which pops up half-way through behind a policeman on a video screen. Will the police state of the future have completely the wrong idea about 'undesirable aliens'? Or will the Seti@Home's much publicised problems mean we'll still be processing the same old data set a hundred years from now...

Friday 11/6/1999

Our friends over at Need To Know go live with the intelligence that BT's about to announce ADSL, starting in September and at around thirty quid. Well, close enough. The price is apparently going to be not unadjacent to fifty quid a month, while the availability will be strictly limited as the company rolls it out piecemeal. First area to get the green light? Hey, hey: Westminster. This is a smart move by BT, which not only means that MPs will get the full excitement of 2Mbps to their pied-a-terres clustered around the House (CU-SeeMe for late night sessions with their researchers, fast access to the web sites of major arms suppliers, half-hour downloads of Phantom Menace) but that BT's engineers will get to see exactly what's going on. In plenty of time for the major reorganisation of telecommunications regulatory bodies that's due later this year. They've already had a good chuckle at what the current batch of triallists get up to with all that bandwidth to the home -- you can guess -- and now they'll get what can only be described as useful bargaining chips for the corporate struggles ahead.

I confidently predict that personal strong encryption will not only be allowed under the final e-commerce bill, but made mandatory...

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