This marks my last column in this format. But my tiny fan base will be relieved to know I'll still provide rants and tirades irregularly in EE Times. After nearly 300 columns, it's time to suss out the gains in broadband communications.
When this column began in 1993, "interactive" meant cable TV trials in Orlando, the Internet was a research TCP/IP net and the World Wide Web was in its infancy at CERN. In the succeeding years, a fiber-buildout boom and bust in North America exceeded the volume of any market craze preceding it.
It's tempting to look back at the devastation wrought in Internet hype and wonder if a ban on investment bankers and venture capitalists might have helped U.S. standing in broadband services. If Internet access had become a government policy early on, might we now be in the shape of South Korea, making tens of megabits to the home a universal goal? Would there have been a way to stanch the tide of outsourcing that has turned communications equipment development into a business largely located outside this country?
When some readers hear "government policy," they scream "Get thee behind me, Satan," and, in this case, I'm inclined to agree.
We've made a lot of progress in 11 years, with wireless LAN and 3G services ubiquitous, Internet access a given social reality for most young people, and new business and entertainment services common enough to be neglected. If we're looking for how we might have gotten from 1993 to 2004 without mass destruction, we can start by soul-searching our own roles.
Time and again, I'm told by participants in the great venture hoo-ha of the late 1990s that they knew at the time that physical buildout could not be sustained, that growth numbers were cooked, that Internet applications were as silly as Henry Blodgett famously claimed. It may be tough to be a naysayer in a crowd of drunks, but if you were present at the hype creation and said nothing, you were partly responsible for the bust. We realized most of our dreams in the past 10 years, but next time around, let's own up to which ones might be hallucinogenic.
Loring Wirbel is Communications editorial director for EE Times and its network publications.