|COMMUNICATIONS AT THE MILLENIUM
To describe a typical Winsham household's access to telecommunications at the end of the second millennium is an impossible task. Technological change is proceeding at such a rate that there can be no "typical" household and what is described in 2000 will doubtless be read in 10 years' time as being positively antediluvian. Both in terms of personal communications and mass media information technology the last decade of the 20th century saw massive change. What follows therefore is one person's impression of the impact of information technology on Winsham and how much it has affected all our lives.
At the start of the 1990s personal communications consisted of land-line telephones and fax (mainly for business rather than personal use). Personal pagers were widely available and a few may have had mobile telephones although the cellular network was in its infancy. Personal computers were slow, and had little or no capacity for networking. By 2000 the cellular network is extensive, though Winsham remains a bit of a black hole, particularly indoors where the thick walls of the older houses are an effective barrier to the signal. Mobile phones using digital technology are however widespread. Personal computers are in most cases linked to the internet although in the main internet communications are via land lines and are consequently slow and not infrequently overloaded. However cellular connection to the internet is becoming commoner and will doubtless become the norm within the next year or so. Online shopping is widely available and email is now a commonplace means of communication. Although there are still problems with attached documents, email is replacing fax as the preferred means of instant communication. It is likely that email and the internet will largely supplant surface mail not only because of speed but also because it is significantly cheaper. First class letter post (24 hours if you are lucky) costs 27p per item. The same document can be transmitted to an infinite number of recipients for a fraction of a penny. Video phones are available as well as conferencing facilities though the extent to which Winsham has availed itself of these technological marvels is unknown.
Mass media communications.
Here also, the end of the 20th century has seen enormous change. At the start of the 1990s there was a limited number of radio and television channels, terrestrially based. There were audio and some video tapes and compact discs (audio) were becoming available. By 2000, satellite TV is widely available (a rough estimate is that about 30% of the houses in Winsham have satellite access). Winsham is not connected to the cable TV network. The introduction of digital technology means that huge numbers of TV channels are available, with internet access via a TV set and interactive TV being possible. DVDs are presumably set to replace video tapes in the same way that audio CDs have largely replaced tape. There is no way of knowing how much digital technology has penetrated Winsham but it is the current intention that all TV will be digital by 2007. The technology is such that the first decade of the new millennium will see merging of mass media communication with personal communications, a process that has already begun.
From the foregoing it will be obvious that there can be no typical pattern of expenditure. A TV licence (compulsory) which gives access to terrestrial TV (Channels 1-5, but not in Winsham where Channel 5 is not accessible) is £104 annually. Access to satellite costs a variable amount but a "family" package giving access to innumerable channels, including digital, is £32 per month, with extra to pay for certain sporting events and new films available on a pay-per-view basis. Telephone line rental from British telecom which has a monopoly costs about £25 per quarter depending on what call package is bundled with it. There is a bewildering number of call tariffs which are continually changing both for land and mobile phones. Internet access is also subject to vast variation with some ISPs charging a subscription, others offering free access but often failing to deliver. There are also continuous promises of free call time which do not ever seem to come to anything.
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