Shall we go quiet into that good night?

July 7, 2005
By

Jeff Pulver is a white hat, that’s for sure. He has a Call to Arms in opposition of Brand X among other atrocities, that is worth a read.

If I get a moment, I will try to elaborate on some of my views of Brand X. My guess is I’ll be far less kind than Jeff is in his post.

Perhaps it’s time for an FCC Part 68 style rule for the Internet. Part 68 arrived as part of the break-up of AT&T and is the rule that allows us to connect our own telephones, as well as devices like answering machines and modems, to the phone line. Before Part 68, the phone company had absolute control of all telephones. In the fifties, AT&T argued that even the Hushaphone (pictured) that didn’t even connect to the phone wires, but simply clamped to the phone’s mouthpiece to block out noise, would damage their network! The FCC did as Ma Bell told them, and agreed! The Hushaphone people fought a long battle, and that case, along with the Carterphone case, signalled the begining of a breakup in this effective monopoly that ultimately allowed other companies to interconnect with the telephone network.

Despite the limitations of what one can do with end of a traditional phone line, just think of all the innovation that has occurred in terms of what we can plug into our wall jacks, without asking the permission of the phone company, or paying extra. This is now a significant micro-economy, representing wealth, jobs, and consumer choices. We would have none of this if all innovations had to come from the old-guard at AT&T, as was the case before the breakup. In all the time that AT&T had full control of the edge, we saw very little innovation.

If you are not old enough to have lived it, imagine a world in which there were two or three kinds of phones available, you had to get them from the phone company, and they had to be “rented” at exorbitant prices. There is no phone section in Fry’s or Bestbuy or Target. We cannot buy modems, answering machines, or any other of the countless phone gadgets available today, because they do not exist.

Now imagine the same thing for the Internet. Imagine that we have to “subscribe” to the devices and applications we want to use at the end of our Internet pipes and we can only obtain them from our phone company or cable company. If the phone companies and cable companies get their way, that is the exactly the world we will have.

The Internet we have enjoyed for many years, in which we connect the devices we a want, and purchase and run the Internet applications we want, is being attacked on many fronts. Our freedom of choice has already started to erode. And so far, there has been little outcry.

2 Responses to Shall we go quiet into that good night?

  1. July 8, 2005 at 6:04 am

    A historical quibble: FCC Part 68 requirements had nothing to do with the breakup of the Bell System. They came out of a rulemaking procedure that had its origins in the Hushaphone and Carterphone cases (as you mention), and were published in 1976.

  2. July 13, 2005 at 3:50 pm

    Thanks for the clarification, DG Lewis.

    Obviously, a short post has to be a little lose with details.

    Even though they may not be technically related, I would argue that the product of the Part 68 rules ties in with the changing sentiments and social mindshare shifts that gave rise to the public support that ultimately led to the break up.

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