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The Internet Takes Off

The Internet clearly got its start as an open medium. The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) issued regulations that required telephone companies to open their networks to competing technologies and service providers. The tremendous growth of the Internet happened over dial-up modems, which are connections offered by phone companies using traditional phone lines.

High-Speed Access

When the phone companies introduced their high-speed connections called DSL (Digital Subscriber Lines), the same openness was required – just like dial-up. However, the FCC refused to require cable companies to open their networks in the same way. Cable companies offering high speed Internet services did not have to allow other companies the opportunity to offer Internet services over their networks.  Recently, the phone companies successfully pressed the FCC to eliminate the rules that required competition over DSL or new fiber optic networks, restricting the openness and competition of the Internet.

Anyone else interested in offering a new service will have to build their own network – stringing wires (or wireless access points) in every community. This turns the concept of an open, nationwide, interconnected communications network on its head.

Net Neutrality

These days there is a lot of talk about "Net Neutrality."  Net Neutrality simply means that phone and cable companies have to treat all users of their Internet networks the same. It's the way the Internet has operated since the beginning and is the main reason it has been so successful.

But phone and cable companies have begun to bristle at the concept of treating all users the same. Some want to allow certain customers who pay a fee to go faster on the Internet. Advocates of Net Neutrality caution that phone and cable companies, left unregulated, would quickly turn the Internet into a toll road. 

The future of the Internet holds other challenges that could be made worse if the policy of closed networks is allowed to prevail. Innovation will suffer, as will affordability and access. Problems like spam – unsolicited commercial email – and spyware — software programs that spy on your computer – could be solved if new companies with new technologies and new ideas are allowed to thrive. The same is true for finding workable solutions to concerns about security and privacy over the Internet.

Telephone and cable companies do not face real competition for high-speed Internet services and have few incentives to find answers to these and other concerns.  For instance, if open competition for access to the Internet is shut down, the gap between people who have Internet access at home and those who do not will continue to widen because prices for high speed Internet access will continue to stay out of reach for millions of Americans.


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