Little does anyone remember, but back in the early 1990′s, there was an outcry from internet users across the country over a perceived notion that the telephone companies were doing everything in their power to disrupt the use of dial-up modems on their networks. Historically, internet regulation were non-existent or by the seat of the regulators pants. Today, evidence suggests that the Internet was not even recognized as a phenomenon or concern by most regulators until the mid 1990s, when it became obvious it would have a giant impact on the most basic business models. As a result, the rules or actions that can be identified with fair use do not seem to have been framed with the Internet in mind, and the time is ripe for change.
Here at The Lounge, we have been ranting for years that the Money Grubbing Internet Service Providers be required to provide non discriminatory internet access, guaranteed speed and data access, and to be free from anti-competitive abuses and practices. As online gamers, streamers, and website owners, Lisa and I have experienced a plethora of disruptive practices from our ISP’s including attempts to cap our unlimited data plan, disruption of our online peer-to-peer gaming, and disconnects from our video streaming due to subjective issues such as ‘network congestion’ or ‘provider disruption’ All of this while we paid in excess of $50 a month for unlimited speed and data plans from ISP’s who in the end, gave us limited data and bandwidth while vilifying us as bandwidth hogs. A little history tells the story of why we must insist that ISP’s in some way shape or form take on the look of a ‘common carrier’ of old, and provide non-discriminatory access to the world wide web.
In 1980, the FCC ruled that firms that use basic telecommunications services to provide an enhanced service, such as information delivery, are not engaged in the provision of a basic common carrier telecommunications service, or local telephone service. Rather, they are providing an “enhanced” service and, accordingly, are not subject to the direct jurisdiction of the FCC. At the time, a telecommunications common carrier was the term used to describe a provider of telecommunications transmission service that offers its service to the public for a fee and, in contrast to a television station owner or a cable television operator, does not control the content of the information transmitted by its facilities or services. Rather, the carrier’s customer controls the content and the destination of the transmission.
Local and long distance telephone companies operated as common carriers, which historically have had close regulatory scrutiny by both federal and state agencies. The history of common carriage is fundamental to the discussion today. There was a series of FCC decisions that gave customers the right to attach approved devices directly to the network, which has allowed both ISPs and users to attach modems to their phone lines, a necessary precondition for dial-up access.Some observers also point to common carriage regulation as an important internet enabler. Entry by ISPs has been facilitated by common carrier rules which mandate nondiscriminatory access and reasonable rates apply to both the dial-up lines used by individual customers and the telephone network dedicated lines used by many ISPs to connect points of presence to the Internet. In 1997 the FCC affirmedan earlier ruling that the transmission between an end user’s premises and an enhanced service provider’s location in the same calling area would be treated as a local call, rather than as an interstate call, regardless of whether that transmission carries data, an e-mail message, or even a voice call over the Internet. For the final years of the 20th century, the internet was truly open and free.
Today, this has all changed. The old model service providers like AOL and CompuServe who were among hundreds of providers who sold services in a competitive market based on a ‘local call’ to a ‘common carrier’. Every day were were bombarded with offers from ISP’s who were willing to provide us with the deal of a lifetime, including free access if we were willing to dial their number. The FCC regulations of unfettered access to the network is what fostered this competition. With the advent of broadband technology, high-speed internet access has become ubiquitous. Today, a typical consumer has little or no choice in his local community in respect to a high-speed or broadband provider. A large majority of consumers are located in area’s where the only provider is the Cable TV company who in turn is the content provider for competing services. This leads to a corporate media dominance not seen since the early days of Radio and it is quite obvious we need pro-consumer regulation at the provider level.
The simple fact is the Service Providers have had no incentive to provide pro-consumer services and no need to create equal and unfettered access to data on their broadband networks. This, along with the consolidation of the providers makes regulation even more imperative. The real scary part is that over the last decade, has been a large contraction of pipes, with only 4 or 5 dominate broadband providers available in the country, and the habit of these providers is to continue to use anti-consumer and disruptive practices to enhance their bottom line. Either way, as long as were are dominated by just a few providers and those providers continue to disrupt the flow of information on their networks, we must force the F.C.C. to regulate these providers for the good of the people.