While I was in Asia my wife picked up an 1860 original leather bound copy of "The Story of the Life of George Stephenson" by Samuel Smiles. If you've never heard of George Stephenson, he's known for The Stockton and Darlington Railway which opened on the 27th of September 1825, The Liverpool and Manchester Railway which opened on the 15th of September 1830 and, with his son Robert Stephenson, for the engine "The Rocket" which won the first major locomotive contest in October 1830, also setting a speed record (29 mile per hour).
The Stockton and Darlington was designed to carry coal to a port at Stockton-on-Tees. To quote Smiles,
At first passengers were not thought of; and it was only while the works were in progress that the starting of a passenger coach was seriously contemplated. The number of persons traveling between the two towns was small and it was not known whether these would risk their persons upon an iron road. <...>
No sooner did the coal and merchandise trains begin to run regularly upon the line than new business relations sprang up between Stockton and Darlington and there were many more persons who found occasion to travel between the two towns — merchandise and mineral traffic invariably stimulating, if not calling into existence, an entirely new traffic in passengers.
In 1829 the line was extended to new docks five miles down the river where a new town (Middlesborough) grew from nothing to more than 6000 residents within ten years.
For the much more ambitious Liverpool and Manchester, the promoters based their calculations on heavy merchandise traffic (coal, cotton and timber) but also thought that they might be able to capture half of the 400 people per day carried by coaches between the two cities. Again quoting Smiles,
But the railway was scarcely open before it carried on an average about 1200 passengers per day.
These were heady results that lead in due course to waves of investment (peaking in 1836-37 and in 1846) producing bubbles not unlike our Internet bubble. But despite investment bubbles, and busts, traffic continued to grow throughout the 19th century, literally transforming society. The parallels with the Internet are interesting. Andrew Odlyzko tells the investments part of the story in section 4 of this article.
What the quotes from Smiles should suggest is we're unlikely to guess what form future advances based on the Internet will take. Broadband Internet access is important for it's option value, not for the applications we run today.
Put another way, while I love railroads, the Internet's long term benefit for humanity is more significant — likely to rank up there with the introductions of speech, writing and the printing press.