Happy 10th birthday, broadband!

56k modem
Close your eyes and you can still hear the sound of the modem handshake

Broadband is ten today - or at least, it is in the UK.

NTL's very first customer, Mark Bush, got his broadband connection a decade ago today, and things would never be the same again - especially not for the poor Mr Bush, who was promptly sucked into The Matrix and used as a battery*.

It's impossible to overstate the importance of broadband. It's like the invention of sliced bread, or beer, or legs. If you weren't online in 2000 you have no idea of how desperately bad things were back then.

Downloading an MP3 took a week. It was quicker and cheaper to make a movie than to download one. It took longer to send an email than to write a book. Online shopping? Online shocking.

Put it this way. If Chatroulette had existed in the year 2000 you'd have had to draw your genitals on a bit of paper, choose somebody's address from the phone book and post the picture to their house.

Broadband didn't just speed things up, although of course that's its most obvious benefit. It was also the final nail in the coffin of per-minute access - in the late 1990s, my introduction to CompuServe rang up phone bills and access charges of several hundred pounds in just one week - and it signalled what somebody pretentious would call a paradigm shift.

Dial and disconnect

Before broadband, the internet was something you dialled into and disconnected when you were finished (or more likely, your ISP disconnected you when you were in the middle of downloading something important that couldn't be resumed later).

Once broadband was here, the internet was as ubiquitous - and ultimately, as unremarkable - as running water or electricity. These days we only really notice it when it isn't working properly.

Things aren't perfect - few of us get the speeds we'd like, some of us still can't get it at all and Ofcom is considering giving ISPs a spanking over the claims they make about broadband performance - but comparing today's internet with that of 10 years ago is like comparing civilisation with a hairy man shouting at a mammoth.

From Spotify streaming to social network stalking, multiplayer gaming to movie downloading, the things we do online every day either wouldn't exist or would cost so much that we wouldn't bother doing them.

Back in 2000, .net magazine (from the same publisher as TechRadar) made a prediction. "In years to come we'll tell our kids about the internet of the nineties, when people used things called modems and got excited about speeds of 33.6Kbps," it said. "And they'll laugh at us, and put us in homes."

* Not really.

Carrie Marshall

Writer, broadcaster, musician and kitchen gadget obsessive Carrie Marshall (Twitter) has been writing about tech since 1998, contributing sage advice and odd opinions to all kinds of magazines and websites as well as writing more than a dozen books. Her memoir, Carrie Kills A Man, is on sale now. She is the singer in Glaswegian rock band HAVR.