FE Editorial : The great leveller

Written by The Financial Express | Updated: Oct 31 2009, 03:40am hrs
Exactly 40 years ago, the first message on what we call the Internet today was transmitted. That transmission, brief as it was, wasnt completed before the systemlinking together machines at UCLA and the Stanford Research Institute crashed. Only the lo part of the log in went through. Poetic prescience you could argue, given that synecdoche is so triumphant in our times. But that was just one among many points of clairvoyance showed in the moment. A second concerned how it was the Russians launch of the Sputnik that impelled the Pentagon to help devise a technology for better, faster and vaster communication. Staying ahead of the Soviet Union, and China to a lesser extent, was an explicit goal. Many years of a full circle later, those are still the countries of origin for the most prevalent data attackin the form of viruses, worms and so on. But, while its all very well to read tea leaves in hindsight, the fact is that on October 29, 1969, US defence department researchers had no idea that their baby would explode agnostically, disseminating information and its power without consideration of origin. Think about it in terms of sheer impact over the past year, the real competition for the Internet campaign in favour of Barack Obama has come from that in favour of Mir Hossein Mousavi. Mobilising political engagement with comparable impact across Iran and the US, thats a substantive coup.

By the end of 1969, the Internet had expanded from two to four computers. By July 2009, it reached across around 700 million machines, having added more than two computers every second of its life. But most of the meteoric growth only occurred in this decade, at the beginning of which there were only 93 million computers with Internet access. What about India We only got into the game in 1988, with full Internet access for the public launched on Independence Day in 1995. In India, the next Internet frontier is obviously the wireless phone, as there are around 65 times more cellphone connections than broadband Internet links. The future lies in synergies between the cellphone and the Internet, between filing an RTI application online and getting the results via SMS. And the latest inklings of this future are that Google is looking for a local partner to participate in the upcoming 3G auction. In India, the company already represents 88% of searches. Even if one disregards the established corporates, the fact is that from education to business, today the Internet provides our entrepreneurs a virtual infrastructure for international competition. For that level playing field, we say thank you today.