Open Capital: ARTICLES

The Broadcast Web

While it is generally accepted that the Holy Grail in internet terms is the provision of Broadband access the available technology appears to be limited in its ability to deliver.

ADSL provision through copper telephone wires doesn't work more than 3km from an Exchange: cable is fine for major population centres, but the sheer cost of the infrastructure is bound to limit take-up of the service.

As for mobiles; the outcome of the vast enabling infrastructure spending on spectrum and technology has effectively been a windfall tax on those Banks who have funded it. And why do you need broadband on a mobile anyway?

The eventual solution, however, as is often the case, may be staring us in the face: the Broadcast Web.


Broadcast data, whether broadcast terrestrially or via satellite, is transmitted at a rate in excess of 2 Megabytes per second (ie some 40 times the capacity of an ordinary modem). And an infinite number of individuals can receive it, whereas even the most powerful network rapidly clogs up when a multiple of users use bandwidth-hungry applications at the same time.

A classic recent example was the collapse of a major French Bank's network when their traders logged on en masse to the "Big Brother" website to view a particularly risqué segment.

Any regular user of the Internet will have observed the massive asymmetry in the flow of data. A few bytes travel out to find the websites we wish to view, and we then laboriously download the website frame by frame and access the data we require within it. And how many of us have cursed the flashy graphics and animations which slow the process to a crawl?

Let us therefore do something radical: turbocharge Teletext.


Even the most technologically challenged of us has come to terms with Teletext during its 25 year history. The transmission of Teletext pages is accomplished through use of those 30 out of 625 "scan lines" on a TV screen which cannot be used because time must be allowed for the TV scanning beam to return to the top of the screen once it has reached the bottom.

A few users have also used the "Viewdata" system, originally developed by the Post Office in the days when they ran telephony as well, of accessing public information via standard telephone lines, and displaying it on the TV screen.

If digital TV broadcast instead of a TV channel the data encapsulated in a website the effect would be a stupendous increase in data dissemination. But what would be required at the receiving end? Here, the requirement is for a "Web Browser in a Box".


Recent developments in the humble "Set Top Box" or "STB" are relevant. Enfocast ( has developed a router – effectively a corporate STB – which allows data to be received via satellite and "multicast" throughout corporate networks – permitting TV "Direct to the Desktop".

Nokia are building an STB which will effectively provide a Home Media Gateway to an internal home network of digital TV's; PC's and other devices. Pace Technologies are also active in the retail field with their own variant STB.

The "BrowserBox" STB would incorporate:
• an Internet Browser programme NOT bundled to a proprietary PC operating system, but rather a stripped down Linux-based OS (as with the Nokia STB);
• reasonable graphics capability and processing power;
• adequate data storeage on a suitable medium.

The current Teletext conventions could then effectively be adopted so that the channels and categories so familiar to millions of UK users were retained. The outcome would be that the former "ViewData" becomes an Internet "BackChannel". And Teletext becomes the "Broadcast Web" where rather than scroll though a few TeleText pages we actually download Websites, frames and all.


We could watch TV on half the screen and access the Web at half the speed – the permutations and combinations are endless: major websites and TV channels converge.

There could be some interesting outcomes: for instance it is perhaps appropriate that the former BBC chairman now chairs BT – since such technology, if made available to every BBC licence holder and telephone user would effectively mean that the two companies could converge into a utility UK Channel Service Provider.

Furthermore the US Courts have found that Microsoft have a monopoly in PC operating systems and one eminent commentator – Dave Winer - has proposed that Microsoft should be obliged to unbundle its dominant Internet Explorer Browser into a separate "BrowserCo".

"BrowserBoxes" from competing manufacturers would then be connected within Home Networks to competing applications rather than to whatever Microsoft saw fit to bundle with the PC operating system.

Bring on the Broadcast Web.


Chris Jens Cook
First published in "New Economy" Magazine
October 2001.