To say the Internet is quickly becoming a mass-market commodity may be an understatement at least in some countries such as the United States, Britain and here in Hong Kong. But to say the Internet has reached its full potential is inaccurate. After all, even the most optimistic studies only show about 30-50 million US citizens may have Web access. When compared with televisions, which invade some US households in surprisingly large numbers, the Net suddenly seems much smaller than those of us whose lives circle around it are willing to admit. The so-called Network Computer revolution which is being touted by the likes of Sun and Oracle, still doesn't seem set to launch the Internet, and especially the Web, to the levels of penetration TVs enjoy. One of the main reasons for this is not lack of content but ease of access. The problem here is that someone whose technical knowledge stops at being able to program a TV channel tuner is not going to take the plunge on to the Net if it requires a new box, with a new technical challenge. Mitsubishi, however, has announced a new TV to be sold in Japan which may mark the first of a new type of product in the Network Computer market. The new TV set - unavailable for export - is the first Internet TV on the market. It combines e-mail capabilities with a Web browser and a modem in a standard TV set. Users can control the system and access the Net all from the TV's remote control, making it potentially as easy to set up and use as a regular TV set. At first glance one may wonder if this is a viable product - it is expensive (about HK$19,500), it uses a modem rather than a high-speed cable or ISDN connection to the Net and a remote may not be the ideal interface. However, it does establish the credibility of a single-unit TV and Internet access device. Only 2,000 per month are initially being produced. If exported to, or produced in, the US, the price would certainly drop and become competitive with comparable non-Internet-capable TV sets. Moreover, small changes would allow an Internet TV to be produced which uses cable Internet access such as the type available in some parts of the US or ISDN access available elsewhere. Also, a remote control may be an ideal and simple tool for browsing the Web and short e-mails. Sure, someone with heavy e-mail requirements is not going to want to use a remote control with tiny buttons - but, someone with real e-mail needs and a high volume of e-mails will likely want a PC for the other benefits it can provide them in terms of their document processing capabilities and other additional computing features. Even if the Internet TV such as the one announced by Mitsubishi doesn't become the standard for mass-market Internet access, there is little doubt it marks the acknowledgement by the electronics industry that mass-market Internet access is one the important business waves and markets of the next decade. I wonder when the backbone providers will catch up with the moves towards consumer Internet devices and upgrade the backbones to support high-speed Net access into every home.