Today marks the 80th anniversary of the 1934 Communications Act. Signed into law by President Franklin D. Roosevelt, the Act was basically a shuffling of the Federal Radio Act of 1927 and the Mann-Elkins Act of 1910, which covered telephone service. From Wikipedia:
The stated purposes of the Act are “regulating interstate and foreign commerce in communication by wire and radio so as to make available, so far as possible, to all the people of the United States a rapid, efficient, nationwide, and worldwide wire and radio communication service with adequate facilities at reasonable charges, for the purpose of the national defense, and for the purpose of securing a more effective execution of this policy by centralizing authority theretofore granted by law to several agencies and by granting additional authority with respect to interstate and foreign commerce in wire and radio communication, there is hereby created a commission to be known as the ‘Federal Communications Commission’, which shall be constituted as hereinafter provided, and which shall execute and enforce the provisions of this Act.”
While the 1934 Act served America quite well for over six decades, in 1996 it was given a much-needed overhaul to better reflect the technology of the day. But even that overhaul now seems like a bit of a relic, as today’s current broadband age — both wired and wireless — has completely revolutionized America’s communications.
With some activists currently calling for the FCC to reclassify broadband services under Title II, it’s worth remembering that Title II was originally part of the 1934 Act. In other words, those pushing for reclassification of broadband services want the FCC to use an 80 year old law to govern the modern Internet.
Rather than brute force a law on the books since before World War II, a smarter way to govern today’s Internet — and whatever shape the Internet takes in years to come — would be to once again revisit the Communications Act. A lot has changed in 80 years, after all, and relying on such an outdated framework for today’s technology could very easily do much more harm than good.
So this is pretty cool. At The Atlantic, Alex Wright highlights the fact the World Wide Web’s origins date back farther than we think. An excerpt:
When Vannevar Bush’s “As We May Think” first appeared in The Atlantic’s pages in July 1945, it set off an intellectual chain reaction that resulted, more than four decades later, in the creation of the World Wide Web.
In that landmark essay, Bush described a hypothetical machine called the Memex: a hypertext-like device capable of allowing its users to comb through a large set of documents stored on microfilm, connected via a network of “links” and “associative trails” that anticipated the hyperlinked structure of today’s Web.
Historians of technology often cite Bush’s essay as the conceptual forerunner of the Web. And hypertext pioneers like Douglas Engelbart, Ted Nelson, and Tim Berners-Lee have all acknowledged their debt to Bush’s vision. But for all his lasting influence, Bush was not the first person to imagine something like the Web.
In the years leading up to World War II, a number of European thinkers were exploring markedly similar ideas about information storage and retrieval, and even imagining the possibility of a global network—a feature notably absent from the Memex. Yet their contributions have remained largely overlooked in the conventional, Anglo-American history of computing.
Chief among them was Paul Otlet, a Belgian bibliographer and entrepreneur who, in 1934, laid out a plan for a global network of “electric telescopes” that would allow anyone in the world to access to a vast library of books, articles, photographs, audio recordings, and films.
Pew has released its second report on the state of the Internet at age 25, this time featuring the thoughts of experts on what the Internet will look like in 2025. An excerpt:
Information sharing over the Internet will be so effortlessly interwoven into daily life that it will become invisible, flowing like electricity, often through machine intermediaries.
David Clark, a senior research scientist at MIT’s Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Laboratory, noted, “Devices will more and more have their own patterns of communication, their own ‘social networks,’ which they use to share and aggregate information, and undertake automatic control and activation. More and more, humans will be in a world in which decisions are being made by an active set of cooperating devices. The Internet (and computer-mediated communication in general) will become more pervasive but less explicit and visible. It will, to some extent, blend into the background of all we do.”
Joe Touch, director at the University of Southern California’s Information Sciences Institute, predicted, “The Internet will shift from the place we find cat videos to a background capability that will be a seamless part of how we live our everyday lives. We won’t think about ‘going online’ or ‘looking on the Internet’ for something — we’ll just be online, and just look.”
There’s much more in the Pew report, which is available here. Dig in.
The latest study from Pew examines the current state of mobile Internet usage. As you’d expect, it’s growing at a good clip:
63% of adult cell owners now use their phones to go online, a figure that has doubled since we first started tracking internet usage on cell phones in 2009. In addition, 34% of these cell internet users say that they mostly go online using their cell phone. That means that 21% of all adult cell owners now do most of their online browsing using their mobile phone—and not some other device such as a desktop or laptop computer.
Other findings from the report, which you can read here:
• Young adults: Cell owners ages 18-29 are the most likely of any demographic group to use their phone to go online: 85% of them do so, compared with 73% of cell owners ages 30-49, and 51% of those ages 50-64. Just 22% of cell owners ages 65 and older go online from their phones, making seniors the least likely demographic group to go online from a cell phone.
• Non-whites: Three-quarters (74%) of African-American cell phone owners are cell internet users, as are 68% of Hispanic cell owners.
• The college-educated: Three-quarters (74%) of cell owners with a college degree or higher are cell internet users, along with two-thirds (67%) of those who have attended (but not graduated) college.
This is the Bell 101 modem, which was the first device made available publicly for connecting to the Internet. It made its debut in 1959, and was able to transfer data at a blazing 110 bits per second.
Via Edmund DeMarche of Fox News, a hospital in Pennsylvania is tackling a decidedly modern problem:
[A] psychiatric hospital in central Pennsylvania is now set to become the country’s first facility of its kind to offer an inpatient treatment program for people it diagnoses with severe Internet addiction.
The voluntary, 10-day program is set to open on Sept. 9 at the Behavioral Health Services at Bradford Regional Medical Center. The program was organized by experts in the field and cognitive specialists with backgrounds in treating more familiar addictions like drug and alcohol abuse.
“[Internet addiction] is a problem in this country that can be more pervasive than alcoholism,” said Dr. Kimberly Young, the psychologist who founded the non-profit program. “The Internet is free, legal and fat free.”
Safe to say there won’t be online consultations available.
Today marks the 20th anniversary of the World Wide Web entering the public domain. To mark the occasion, CERN — the research group that made the web as we know it possible — has relaunched the world’s first website at its original URL. The image above is what the page looked like, but check it out in all its sparse glory on your own.
Today marks the 17th anniversary of the 1996 Telecommunications Act. We at IIA have a strong connection to the Act, as our own Honorary Chairman Rick Boucher, then chair of the subcommittee on Communications, Technology and the Internet, was a player in drafting the Act and getting it passed.
Interestingly — though the Act is often tied to the growth of the Internet here in America — the word “Internet” was only mentioned in one section (and ironically, that section was later ruled unconstitutional by the Supreme Court). Instead, the main focus of the Act was to encourage new competition in local and long-distance telephone markets, as well as television. And since its signing into law, it’s not an understatement to say there has been a major disruption in the both the telephone and television markets. The rise of the Internet — spurred by the life-changing benefits of broadband that have led to widespread availability and adoption of the technology — has changed the way we work, entertain ourselves, and communicate with each another (although our nation still has a way to go until everyone is connected).
Seventeen years is a long time, and when it comes to the speed of the evolution of technology, 1996 might as well be the Dark Ages. As the telecommunications industry makes the seismic shift to all IP-networks — a transition that will usher in the full power of the Internet Age — it’s worth appreciating how important the 1996 Telecommunication Act was at the time of its adoption. It’s also important to recognize just how much the market has changed around market players subject to certain regulations in the Act.
If we’re going to fully embrace the power of current and future technology, the 1996 Telecommunications Act may not be still be relevant in many cases. Fortunately, provisions that would allow the Federal Communications Commission to forbear from applying certain regulations were included in Section 10 of the legislation (real-life forbearance example: the decision to not regulate investment and deployment of fiber-based facilities in the network). IIA hopes that the Commission will take note—we’ve come a long way but still need to catch up to today.
Last week, our Co-Chairman Bruce Mehlman appeared on a panel as part of the State of the Net in Washington, D.C. The discussion, “The Internet Leadership Challenge: Restoring America to Economic Greatness Through Sound Internet Policy,” was moderated by Joe Waz, Senior Strategic Adviser to the Comcast Corporation. Also on the panel were Blair Levin, Communications & Society Fellow, FCC Commissioner Robert McDowell, Grover Norquist, President of Americans for Tax Reform.
Here’s video of the discussion, which touches on President Obama’s legacy, taxation of the Internet, and the transition from legacy networks to all-IP.
Over at the Huffington Post, Olivier Dumon looks at how the Internet has revolutionized research and academic publishing. His entire post is worth digging into, but here’s a taste:
Collaboration between researchers in different countries, of the kind we take for granted today, would have been unheard of even as late as WWII. But the decline of the Cold War saw laboratory walls melt away, as a global economy and the rise of the multinational corporation, increased competition and the need to access the best scientific talent in order to build modern economies and address problems that are now global in nature. More than 35 percent of all research papers published today document active international collaboration, a 40 percent increase from 15 years ago and double since 1990. China dominates in cross-border collaborations; Japan and the E.U. are second and third.
Yesterday at the International Telecoms Union (ITU) conference in Dubai, a victory was chalked up for freedom as a draft treaty that would give government greater control over the Internet was shot down. As Charles Arthur of The Guardian reports:
The US was first to declare its opposition to the draft treaty. “It is with a heavy heart and a sense of missed opportunities that I have to announce that the United States must communicate that it is unable to sign the agreement in its current form,” Terry Kramer, head of the US delegation, told the conference, after what had looked like a final draft was approved.
“The internet has given the world unimaginable economic and social benefit during these past 24 years. All without UN regulation. We candidly cannot support an ITU Treaty that is inconsistent with the multi-stakeholder model of internet governance.”
The US was joined in its opposition by the UK, Canada, Costa Rica, the Czech Republic, Denmark, Egypt, Kenya, the Netherlands, New Zealand, Poland, Qatar and Sweden. All said they would not sign the proposed final text, meaning that although a number of other countries will sign it, the treaty cannot be effectively implemented.
Matt Smith and Joseph Menn of Reuters report on some positive signs for Internet freedom out of the ITU conference in Dubai:
Hopes rose on Tuesday for a compromise agreement that would keep intrusive government regulation of the Internet from being enshrined in a global treaty.
As a 12-day conference of the International Telecommunication Union drew near its Friday closing, the chairman of the gathering in Dubai circulated a draft that sidelined proposals from Russia, China and other countries that have been seeking the right to know where each piece of Internet traffic comes from.
“The United States believes it is the basis for any further progress toward reaching an agreement at this conference,” said U.S. Ambassador Terry Kramer, who had led Western opposition to the earlier proposals.
The United States has been strongly against giving government more oversight of the Internet — so much so that even both Democrats and Republicans have agreed.
Beginning today in Dubai, close to 200 nations are meeting to discuss the future of the Internet. At Wired, David Kravets previews the discussion:
The idea behind the meetings is to update the International Telecommunications Regulations governed by the International Telecommunications Union, a United Nations agency known as the ITU, that is responsible for global communication technologies.
But the outcome of the two-week session isn’t likely to make much change, as no proposal will be accepted if not agreed to by all nations. And the biggest fear — that the session will lead to net censorship — has already come to pass.
The 193 nations at the meeting have put forward more than 900 proposed regulatory changes covering the Internet, mobile roaming fees and satellite and fixed-line communications. Broad consensus is needed for any item to be adopted for any changes — the first major review of the U.N.‘s telecommunications agenda since 1988, well before the Internet age.
The gathering is also powerless to force nations to change their Internet policies, such as China’s notorious “Great Firewall” and widespread blackouts of political opposition sites in places including Iran and the Gulf Arab states. Last week, Syria’s Internet and telephone services disappeared for two days during some of the worst fighting in months to hit the capital, Damascus.
Over two billion people are already online, representing about a third of the planet. And, yes, spreading that access further is a good goal, but the ITU is not the player to do it. The reason that the internet has been so successful and has already spread as far as it has, as fast as it has, is that it hasn’t been controlled by a bureaucratic government body in which only other governments could vote. Instead, it was built as an open interoperable system that anyone could help build out. It was built in a bottom up manner, mainly by engineers, not bureaucrats. Changing that now makes very little sense.
Besides, does anyone really think that a process that requires the companies who successfully innovated to funnel money to corrupt governments and/or corrupt state-controlled telcos is going to magically lead to greater investment in internet growth?
You can read IIA’s position on International control of the Internet here.
The Washington Post‘s Cecilia Kang has the goods on a new report from the Interactive Advertising Bureau that measures the effect the ad-supported Internet has on the economy:
The IAB-commissioned report from Harvard Business School, which updated a similar 2009 report, found Internet-based companies in every congressional district in the United States. About 2 million people are directly employed by Internet ad-supported firms, the report said.
An additional 3.1 million jobs, including those in Internet advertising and digital advertising analysis, would not exist without the sector.
All told, the economy benefited by $530 billion last year alone, according to the report.
Yesterday, over 80 countries — including the U.S. — backed a United Nations resolution protecting the freedom of the Internet. The resolution...
...Affirms that the same rights that people have offline must also be protected online, in particular freedom of expression, which is applicable regardless of frontiers and through any media of one’s choice, in accordance with articles 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights;
Recognizes the global and open nature of the Internet as a driving force in accelerating progress towards development in its various forms;
Calls upon all States to promote and facilitate access to the Internet and international cooperation aimed at the development of media and information and communications facilities in all countries;
Encourages special procedures to take these issues into account within their existing mandates, as applicable;
Decides to continue its consideration of the promotion, protection and enjoyment of human rights, including the right to freedom of expression, on the Internet and in other technologies, as well as of how the Internet can be an important tool for development and for exercising human rights, in accordance with its programme of work.
In an op-ed for the New York Times, Sweden’s foreign minister Carl Bildt called the resolution a “victory for the Internet,” writing:
The vote in Geneva on Thursday was a breakthrough of fundamental importance. Beyond affirming that freedom of expression applies also to the Internet, the resolution also recognized the immense value the Internet has for global development and called on all states to facilitate and improve global access to it.
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