organization and management of the Internet and concluded that 99 percent of the
Internet's management could be--was designed to be--handled by automated
The remaining 1 percent includes tasks such as coordinating
routing when there are software errors, creating standards for protocols and service
quality, and coordinating the assignment of domain names and addresses. Gillett
and Kapor argued that any proposals for change should distribute authority to avoid
creating situations where resources are scarce (as in defining protocols that limit
the number of available new addresses, for example) and provide a path for
technical evolution, which they see as key to keeping the Net alive.
Although Metcalfe was made to eat his words publicly in early 1997, lots of
complaints about the Internet did surface in 1996. But they didn't come from users,
who continued to flock online even though it meant learning why the World-Wide
Web is so often called the World-Wide Wait. Rather, they came from the telephone
companies, who complained that the combination of flat-rate pricing for Internet
access and free--or at least, flat-rate--local calling encouraged users to stay
online for lengths of time far beyond those the network was designed to manage.
Just how big a difference was explained to the Federal Communications
Commission (FCC) Bandwidth Forum, a January 23, 1997, meeting that assembled
the points of view of a variety of telephone and online industry figures as well as
Lee Bauman, vice president of local competition for Pacific Telesis, summarized the
problems his company faced in grappling with California's 1 million active Internet
users, who averaged sixty-two minutes a day connected to their ISPs whereas
average residential customers typically originated only twenty-two minutes' worth of
calls. "We last year had 23 billion minutes of use going to Internet access providers
in California," he told the meeting, estimating that the company would have to
spend $130 million in 1997 to beef up its network to handle the increased traffic.
"We believe that a good portion of that money could be much better spent for the
benefit of the country in building the new forms of data networks."
The telephone companies' preferred solution is to charge ISPs, or "enhanced
service providers," usage charges for access to the phone network, charges that
presumably would be passed on to Internet users in the form of per-minute access
fees. This would reverse five years of falling prices for online services of all types,
and the concern is that higher costs might mean inhibiting the growth of the
This is not just a theoretical assumption: Internet use has grown much more slowly
both in rural America, where users frequently have to pay long-distance charges for
access, and the world beyond North America, where local calls are metered and
charged by the minute. Conversely, when AOL switched from metered, per-minute
charging to a flat-rate plan at the beginning of December 1996, the service
immediately got blocked up by users who went online and stayed there.
Discovering that it could be difficult to get through to the busied-out service, some
users apparently began camping out online for even longer periods. AOL's CEO,
Steve Case, begged AOLers to be responsible and log off as quickly as possible
until the service could be upgraded; within weeks, junk email was going out
advertising a program to keep your AOL connection open continuously.
Commenting on the Bandwidth Forum discussion, Shabbir Safdar, co-founder of
the lobbying organization Voter Telecom Watch, wrote in the organization's
newsletter, "At risk is the actual design of the Internet. Will it continue to be open
and available to anyone with a computer and modem, or will it be stratified by
pricing such that it is available to fewer people than are [sic] available today?" Of the telephone companies' specific suggestion for usage charges, he
This solution places the majority of the cost on today's Internet
users and businesses without adequately defining what the money
will go to pay for. Worse, it runs the risk of focusing costs on a
single group for a benefit that will be appreciated by everyone
today and in the future.
Copyright © 1997-99 NYU Press. All rights reserved.
Reproduction in whole or in part in any form or medium without written permission of New York University Press is prohibited.
Be sure to visit the NYU Press Bookstore
[Design by NiceMedia]