Net neutrality – Circa 1996

The The Progress and Freedom Foundation, as Marty Kaplan calls it “a corporate-funded fake think tank” has come out against Net neutrality. They say “Net neutrality is, in fact, the theft of property rights from [broadband] infrastructure providers.” Gee, seems like we’ve heard that somewhere before.

I want to look at this from another perspective. Let’s step back to 1996, when we used dial-up to reach the Internet. It wasn’t the telco that gave us Internet service or access to the Internet. We purchased a normal phone line from the telco and then used a modem to let us establish a connection to an Internet service (ISP). The telco really had nothing to do with our interaction with our favorite website of the day, as shown below.

Some creative people, outside the telco (inventors of modems and ISPs) came up with a way for us to use this thing called the Internet in spite of the telco. The telco didn’t invent the Internet nor the means for us to access it.

Later, telcos got involved in the ISP business, but in 1996 we probably got our Internet access from someone other than our telco. The telco didn’t seem to mind then. I guess it might have something to do with the fact that they were basking in the cash from all those second-line phone lines people were buying so they could use this cool thing the telcos didn’t invent (or offer, and didn’t really know anything about) called the Internet. So the Internet, invented by others, made the telcos billions of dollars, even though they had no idea what it was until after lots of people were already using it.

There are millions of people, still doing just this today, using dial-up modems to access the Internet using a non-telco ISP (perhaps more than half the Internet users in the U.S.). So how does Net neutrality effect these people? Why is someone using dial-up provided by a third-party okay, but someone using DSL provided by the telco not okay?

So what they’re telling me is I can literally use the same copper pair to place a dial-up modem call to a third-party ISP and use whatever website I want, but if I use that exact same copper pair using my DSL account, I can’t access that same website?

6 comments for “Net neutrality – Circa 1996

  1. See the link shown for my homepage for a further take on the net neutrality controversy, c. 1996. Hint: remember the term "modem tax"?

  2. Lets look at the real issue here: the government stepping in where it should not. We dont need congress to step in and make regulations without any real problems to warrant the new laws. "Net Neutrality" will add regulations that slow the process of discovering new technologies and the consumer will flip the bill for this lack of progress.

  3. Peter’s right. The real issue isn’t whether the idea of net neutrality is good or not, but that government regulation will hurt the internet instead of helping. Regulation means burdensome rules, increased costs, and less freedom. The internet has thrived because the government has let it operate like a free market. Why should it be ruined by changing that now?

  4. I tend to agree Peter and AJ. However, in this case it’s not quite so simple, or at least if the govt. is going to get out, they need to get all the way out, and make it easy to put pipes into my home. As it is now, other entrants cannot get the access to the home, the right-of-ways etc. that were granted to the monopoly LECs years ago. As long as I have no choice in providers for access to the net, I have a problem. This is a hard problem to solve. My preference is for communities to take ownership of the first mile and then the community takes a cut from whatever service providers that want to offer services on it. But that means a lot of politics and a lot of awareness creation in the public that there is a problem. I’m going to post a followup blog post in response to these comments.

  5. but the threat to the free internet does not come from the government regulation, it comes from the ISPs that what to penalize the services that are not their own. Like Verizon that uses 80% of its carring capacity for its services and the remainder is for everybody’s else services… do you think it’s fair? is that the "free market" you are talking about?
    The Internet was neutral untill 2005 because of a law made in 1934 regarding telecomunication. Then the FCC in Agust 2005 decided that the ISP where extempt from that law and so now it is possible that Comcast block p2p traffic, AT&T slows down Vonage traffic and so on.

    where is the "free market"? was it back then, or now?

    could Page and Brin found Google if they had to pay a toll to carry out their service? could Yahoo? or Youtube?

  6. Sesas, Good point. The "free market" worked with dial-up because there was
    lively competition among ISP’s meaning blocking would be limited by that "free market" because people could speak with their wallets and switch to providers that don’t block.

    That is not true anymore because of the duopoly where we are stuck with either cable or DSL (telecom), and in many cases we don’t even have that choice. So if our ISP blocks now, we have no option to switch and therefore no "free market" to correct that ISP’s behavior.

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