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Wanted: someone to pay for a new web

InternetUnlike at the 1990 World Cup, fans these days can follow their heroes 24/7 via the web.

In the opening game of the 1990 FIFA World Cup a group of journeymen from Cameroon beat reigning world champions Argentina - Maradona and all - in one of the greatest shocks ever seen in sport. I know this because I raced home from school in plenty of time to warm up the CRT TV, crack open a bag of sweets and enjoy the action.

My footie-mad Dad, however, had to work. In a world of few radio stations and no mobile phones he had no way of finding out the score beyond crawling through Ceefax or believing his over-excited, hopped-up-on-sugar son. Just 20 years later this data desert seems prehistoric.

With a smartphone and a PC, the fan of 2010 need never miss a minute of any of this summer’s major sporting events. And it’s not just sport. The internet now forms the central hub of an entertainment eco system, pulling in content from around the globe, every minute of every day. From politics, to sport to entertainment, nothing of import happens without someone, somewhere, broadcasting it over the net. And for unimportant things, there’s Twitter.

Which is great for the consumer, not so good for either ISPs, or the creaking copper wires they and we share. The UK’s telecommunications network was largely designed and built at a time when phone traffic was light, and the multimedia, two-way internet science fiction. No longer.

For a country attempting to trade its way out of recession this combination of aging infrastructure and heavy data traffic is catastrophic. The information superhighway is every bit as important to enterprise now as road and rail was to heavy industry in the past. In fact, given the global nature of modern business, even more so. Communication is global currency.

Something needs to be done, but a major overhaul of UK internet infrastructure will cost big bucks and the queue of people offering to pay for it is remarkably short. Couldn’t be shorter, in fact.

The amount of data we consume is unlikely to atrophy, because our desire for information and entertainment seems only to grow. But if we want the network to keep up with the content, sooner or later someone, somewhere will have to pay.

See also: Election 2010: it was the web wot won it

See also: Twitter, shower gel and the art of terrible PR

Follow Matt Egan at twitter.com/MattJEgan

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