In the very early 90’s my brother Ken and I sysop’ed a Bulletin Board System (aka, a BBS.) It was a simple dial-up affair (I should be clear… *all* BBS were simple dial-up affairs back then) and ours consisted of a single (anemic) IBM PC, two phone lines and two modems… a 2400 baud Hayes Standard and a wicked fast 14400 baud U.S. Robotics beast. We were stylin’.
Despite the fact that our little BBS was in a small town in the middle of Missouri — where the cow to computer ratio was alarmingly high — that system ran almost non-stop. There was nearly always *somebody* dialed-in, and often as not both lines were in use. And it wasn’t just local folk connecting, either. We used to review the traffic logs to see who’d come in from where, and we were frequently astonished to see folks from not only one end of the country to the other, but international dial-up visitors, too, at what had to be significant cost to them… long distance service wasn’t cheap.
If you’d ask me why people dialed into our little system from all over the place, I’d have to say it was simply because they *could*. Having a PC and a modem was like having your very own ticket to the whole wide world. Our BBS had a FidoNet link, and FidoNet had a connection to Usenet, and — if you were patient — you could have a conversation with people on the other side of the planet.
That is, of course, if your phone company would let you. Those modems ran on plain old telephone service (or, POTS) which was, the telephone man would tell you, designed for voice-grade — not data-grade — service. You wanted to pick up your phone, dial somebody and have a conversation? You bet! In that case the connection was 99.999% reliable. If, however, you wanted to zoom zeros and ones across that line at breakneck speed… well buddy, all bets were off. Maybe it’d work, and maybe it wouldn’t. Maybe you’d get your full-duplex, high-speed connection, and maybe you’d connect at a bit dribbling rate of 1200 baud or so. ‘Course… you could always pay for a “data-grade” connection at, oh, five to ten times the price of a voice line. But it wasn’t anything different, at all! It was just another POTS line… albeit one all shiny and new. Hooey!
Just a few short years this side of the BBS’ heyday, the Internet began its inexorable rise. And with it, the local ISP, and flat-rate dial-up services, and broadband connections. And — I’d like to say — it changed everything. And it did. With a (relatively) cheap, local service you could connect with people all around the planet in completely new and exciting ways: voice, data, video streams, the Internet didn’t care. Use any service you like Ã¢â‚¬â€? watch an online video, listen to a podcasts, send instant messages Ã¢â‚¬â€? anytime you choose. The Net had arrived as our new common carrier.
And there is where this story should end. But it doesn’t. ‘Cause the phone companies and their new coopetition — the cable companies — have borrowed a page from their old playbook… and it’s the “data grade” scam all over again.
The nation’s largest telephone and cable companies Ã¢â‚¬â€? including AT&T, Verizon, Comcast and Time Warner Ã¢â‚¬â€? want to be Internet gatekeepers, deciding which Web sites go fast or slow and which won’t load at all.
They want to tax content providers to guarantee speedy delivery of their data. They want to discriminate in favor of their own search engines, Internet phone services, and streaming video Ã¢â‚¬â€? while slowing down or blocking their competitors.
These companies have a new vision for the Internet. Instead of an even playing field, they want to reserve express lanes for their own content and services Ã¢â‚¬â€? or those from big corporations that can afford the steep tolls Ã¢â‚¬â€? and leave the rest of us on a winding dirt road.
The big phone and cable companies are spending hundreds of millions of dollars lobbying Congress and the Federal Communications Commission to gut Net Neutrality, putting the future of the Internet at risk.
And so, for the first time ever, Bloggle is sporting an ad — a PSA spot, if you will — in support of Net Neutrality. I encourage you to lend your voice in support, too. No-one — no government, and certainly no corporation or cartel — should be able to impede the free exchange of ideas or the access to information that the Internet has made possible, today, much less what the Net may offer us tomorrow.
Once upon a time, a very long time ago, my brother and I had a modem and a dream, and it proved our ticket to the world. The Internet is your ticket to the world, now. Don’t let anybody take it from you.