Friday, 20 September 2019 16:04

30iGala - Remembering Internet history: Peter Coroneos video interviews Alex Zaharov-Reutt


In a role reversal, the organiser of the 30th Anniversary of the Internet Gala Dinner on October 31, Peter Coroneos, interviews Alex Zaharov-Reutt about some of his memories of the Net over the past 30+ years, with both also looking at the Internet's future.

Note: Although former CEO and Founder of the Internet Industry Association and organiser Peter Coroneos interviews me in the video below, the words below are mine.

I first started using a 300bps modem from the Canberra PC User Group's "hardware library" in the days of BBS or Bulletin Board Services in the late 80s, before the Internet as we know it started coming to life in the early 90s.

Modems were expensive back then, but I was hooked to the online life, limited though it was at the time, and before too long, I convinced my parents to let me run a BBS on my PC XT clone, from 9pm at night to 7am in the morning - but it was just a tiny glimpse into the Internet's revolutionary future.

While I used to dream of a 9600bps modem once I heard about them, they were super expensive, so my next modem was 1200bps, then 2400bps, then 14.4k, 28.8k, 36.6k and 56.6k, with all the whistling noises during the dial-up sequence that young kids today would have no idea of, but which was just the way things were way back when.

There was even a time when you could dial-up your ISP and then get a busy signal, because the capacity of your ISPs incoming connections had been exceeded!

Here's the video interview of me with Peter Coroneos asking the questions - my thoughts continue below, please read on!

Anyone using the Internet in that era remembers how slow it was to load images, and how faster it became with each new modem, how Real Audio started streaming audio before it morphed into Real Video, and how ADSL networks and HFC cable blew past those dial-up speeds - even though 256kbps ADSL1 connections were rightly blasted as fraudband in an age when you could get a 1.5Mbps connection for, from memory, the same monthly cost.

Nowadays, despite the rollercoaster ride the NBN has delivered, where a range of different network technologies see many today on the same kind of VDSL (FTTN) connections that Telstra was trialling back in the mid 2000s, and despite ongoing stories of slow FTTN speeds for some that are barely faster than the ADSL2+ connections they've replaced, we've certainly come a long, long way.

4K streaming to 4K TVs via 4K-capable streaming media devices and platforms is a reality. The Internet is regularly used on pocket-size smartphones that are more powerful and more popular than many desktop and laptop computers, many with bigger storage capacities.

Voice dictation, video calls, millions of apps at prices that are, in general, vastly cheaper than the boxed software we used to buy in stores, 4K-capable video cameras, cashless payments conducted entirely through smartphones, music and video subscription services, vastly cheaper phone and data costs, Wi-Fi speeds and Bluetooth capabilities far in advance of those early 802.11b and mono-only Bluetooth days and so much more are things we absolutely take for granted.

An Internet outage is just as or even more annoying than a blackout or broken water pipe in your street, whether it affects wired or wireless services - or both - and it reminds us all that civilisation hangs by a thread, with Western societies the guardians of civility, privacy, security and freedom - even if in 2019 one wonders whether any of those things truly exist any more at all in truly meaningful ways.

Provided we can keep the freedoms previous generations have gifted to us today, and we don't destroy ourselves in some kind of environmental, nuclear, medical or financial catastrophe first, we will find that AR headsets in the 2020s will threaten to make the traditional and incredibly powerful smartphone of today seem tremendously old fashioned.

Yes, we'll need our NBN eventually upgraded to deliver as many people as possible the 100Mbps speeds once promised to virtually all, and for 1Gbps and ever faster speeds via wired and wireless technologies to absolutely become the new normal, but despite the ups and downs of life that usually sees human beings muddle through to the other side, and despite the ever growing threats and realities of hackers, cybercrime and worries about Terminator-style AI-powered robots wiping out humanity in the future, I remain optimistic.

For all of human history thus far, the best has always been yet to come. May it always be thus, and may humanity be able to prove wrong the optimists that believe we already live in the best of all possible worlds, and pessimists that already believe it to be true.

Of course, we should not be starry eyed and ignore the lessons of history, the price of liberty (and a free and growing Internet) is eternal vigilance, so may the next 30 years of the Internet in Australia be of one exponential growth and opportunity, may we all have figured out how to stop kids from becoming dangerously addicted to the online world, and may the NBN be finally sorted out well before 2059!

The original article announcing the 30iGala event is here: "INVITATION: Celebrate 30 years of the Internet in Australia with a special Gala Dinner on October 31 in Sydney".

The following article was published earlier this week: "30iGala: Alastair MacGibbon to speak at Internet Gala Event, plus how to win a free ticket". 

This was then followed up with "6 WEEKS until 30iGala: Peter Coroneos and Peter Price AM talk icode, the White House and Internet history".

To learn more and attend the 30iGala event yourself, the event website is here - I hope you can make it on the night!


26-27 February 2020 | Hilton Brisbane

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Alex Zaharov-Reutt

One of Australia’s best-known technology journalists and consumer tech experts, Alex has appeared in his capacity as technology expert on all of Australia’s free-to-air and pay TV networks on all the major news and current affairs programs, on commercial and public radio, and technology, lifestyle and reality TV shows. Visit Alex at Twitter here.



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