We hear lots of talk about the Internet and television merging to become the main media delivery channel into the home. The Internet would come in on high-bandwidth cable or fibre-optic connections which would also carry television, video-on-demand, news services and interactive television. People would buy $500 Internet-access terminals to connect to their television sets. They would then be able to send and read e-mail, plus check out the Web. But the reality may turn out to be a link through the telephone rather than the television. Think about it. More people have telephones than televisions - they cost less. This same point could apply to access to the Internet. With the cost of a television and an Internet terminal, the Internet will still be out of reach for many. Surely, it will be cheaper than fully fledged PCs being used for Net access but it will not be cheap enough to be as pervasive as the telephone? It does not have to be this way. Last week I was waiting for a plane at a small Canadian airport when I came across public Internet-access terminals. The concept was simple: Windows-based PCs connected to the Net which could be used after swiping a credit card. Right now these terminals are not cheap, with costs which can be higher than low-cost monthly Internet connections. But it is not hard to see how with a little bit of volume, Internet-access terminals could cost as little as a phone call. Imagine walking through an MTR station, dropping $1 into a coin slot and checking your e-mail or researching something on the Web before going into a crucial business meeting. If Hong Kong were to deploy public Internet terminals on a wide scale the effect could be enormous. Not only would people who cannot afford PCs or even telephones be able to access the Internet and send e-mails, but the effect would be to make all kinds of Internet-based communications the standard form of electronic communication. For instance, long-distance calls could be placed using Internet-phone technology, making them more accessible to a wider stratum of society. Internet-based video-conferencing software also has a greater chance of becoming a reality through the promise of its deployment at public terminals. The terminals would also help to provide the boost in Web user numbers needed to ensure its success as a medium for conducting business and financial transactions. Right now the volume does not seem to be there to ensure the widespread success of on-line commerce. But with hundredfold rise in the user base, widespread electronic commerce could succeed. The most important aspect of public Internet terminals for me, would be that I would no longer need to lug my seven-pound notebook around everywhere just to check my e-mail. New World Telephone has already previewed its multimedia phone. Maybe it is time for Hongkong Telecom or some of the local Internet service providers to start considering public Internet-access terminals.