the following is fiction... but could it happen?
Dateline, Washington DC, August 11, 2010
Ed Duerkson, National Small Business Monthly
Today, just in time to boost her presidental aspirations, Senator
and the rest of the Senate voted in the Universal Information Rights
"This sweeping legislation is the most important act to pass Congress
the passage of the Civil Rights Acts in the sixties. Defining access
information as a right, just like the right to vote and the right to
speech will revolutionize our society."
As a regular writer of this column and having followed this story for a
years, I think it's time to recap just how we got to where we are.
Researching the history of internet providers has been a fascinating
The earliest access to what was a closed system started back in the
90's, when a few ISP's started allowing modem access to what was a very
academia oriented network.
Time online was expensive, but everything online was free. And not a
regulation in sight.
By the late 90's, dialup was common, and faster internet connections
becoming sought after, and DSL (Digital Subscriber Line) technology was
slowly rolled out in urban areas by most telephone companies, which
the dramatically faster - but slow by today's standards - access of at
a fraction of a megabit, and then growing to several megabit speeds.
course, all access previous to common DSL was all by small business.
the phone companies saw the light and began thier own internet access
offerings. They owned DSL for the most part, and moved into the
or commodity, dialup business. Striking down the telecommunications
the courts a few years later gave them a leg up on gaining market
Most of this market share seemed to be at the expense of ISP's.
By the middle of this last decade, DSL was available to well more than
of the population - and with the advent of commodity priced equipment,
rapidly spread to around 80%. Cable was hot, as well, providing 'net
access to large areas and bundled with tv and eventually, VOIP
Then, fiber slowly began to be deployed. With good speeds, and a
permanence of presence, fiber finally began to penetrate urban areas.
with high costs of deployment, somewhat costly maintenance, fiber was
relatlively expensive for residential use.
So, you say, what happened to those areas NOT covered by DSL and fiber?
Some had nothing other than dialup. Wireless providers grew
the early and middle part of the decade. No license costs, almost no
regulation, and the advent of inexpensive and relatively fast wireless
equipment and technologies made wireless a bright star. It, too,
had moderate infrastructure costs, and it did not cover everywhere.
Satellite was a somewhat less than stellar, but very universally
version of broadband. Performance issues kept it from being much
the "last available alternative".
From a small business advocacy perspective, Wireless was the key.
could get into the business, the cost of deployment varied dramatically
a couple normal paychecks, to millions of dollars, and so it became a
star for small business, in the communications sector.
How this changed? Well, that's a subject of debate. Some say it was
inevitable "maturing". I disagree. Many industries "mature" and
vibrant mix of both small and large operators. In this case, it was a
of regulation and some interesting moves by industry and politics.
First, regulators moved to regulate Internet services. WISP's began
lobby the FCC for spectrum, the kind required to offer near universal
services. They won this battle. Almost. They won, with late 2006
by the FCC that granted sub 1Ghz spectrum for the provision of
services. With over 150Mhz of spectrum available, the industry was
ecstatic. But with an intenst lobbying by a coalition of telephone
companies, cellular companies, and equipment manufacturers - with the
operators of each being Verizon, SBC, Motorola, and joined by Microsoft
a group of WiMax producers and even the ARRL, intense pressure and the
specter of a lot of lawsuits prompted the FCC to reverse its decision,
that spectrum space was changed to "licensed" and sold at auction.
This seems to be the key. Lobbying produced results and WISP's gained
ability to tap USF funds to provide internet and VOIP phone service to
areas. In fact, a few actually bought out a couple small areas from
independent phone companies and a short lived moved by larger phone
companies to divest themselves from small money-losing areas. These
relatively successful initially.
But with this move, new regulations came into existence. WISP's could
longer offer any other service than an internet connection, or else
were classified as and subject to full telecommunications regulations.
Those that did found themselves required to sell access to thier
thier competition. One particular happening, for instance, was when
won the right to use the independent network's last mile to offer
After arguing for almost 3 years that independents were entitled to be
access to the last mile at a discount equal to 50% of the retail price
the services offered by the owners of the network. Qwest then offered
package that included unlimited VOIP and long distance AND internet
to residential customers. Small operators could not afford to build
universally if they offered anything other than net access only. And
USF funds became restricted to only universal access providers.
Almost without exception, this ended the operations of multiple-service
This brings us to today. The last two years have been an intense
Microsoft, SBC, and others, by a newly formed consortium of
academics, social activists, and industry players like Motorola and
Alvarion, known as "Universal Knowledge Access" or "UKA", to define
access as a universal service - requiring provision to every business
residence in the country.
With the passage of this bill, internet access has become the telephone
access of the last century. Only those who can provide it universally
allowed to operate. Basically, each state will have a framework of
regulations, almost mirroring that which defined telephone services up
now. The FCC has federal oversight and is expected to handle any
In about three months, the FCC and each state will start a registration
process, where each provider will define the territory it covers, and
have approximately 18 months to reach every address within the
area. Rates for access will be set by the same tarriff mechanism that
rates within each state for telephone company services. USF funds
continue to be available to subsidize rural buildouts.
James Hart, president of WISPA, who had been influential and forceful
Washington DC revealed to me in a phone conversation, that he and WISPA
expecting the closure or sale of about 99% of its member's businesses.
WISPA had been initially supportive of the UKA goals, but the universal
service requirments killed all support. But it was too late.
From a small business perspective... Internet access by small business
17 year life. Not even long enough to retire from. And now its gone.
Will it be deregulated in the future? Maybe. But don't look for it
soon. The specific regulatory processes taking place to provide
service actually don't plan on reaching universal access for nearly 10
years. Any plans to disrupt that will definitely face insurmountable
Internet Service Providers
1995 - 2011
"We loved them well"
Next month, in my column on industry trends, we're going to look at
evolution of operating system diversity in the marketplace, and how the
imposition and retraction of legally mandated information file formats
affected OS and application development. We'll also examine the
rise of small players over the last two years in the operating system
I honestly am beginning to question my move into the WISP business...
there's hardly a soul out there that sees danger in jumping on the
me and give me money" bandwagon...
North East Oregon Fastnet, LLC 509-593-4061
personal correspondence to: mark at neofast dot net
sales inquiries to: purchasing at neofast dot net
Fast Internet, NO WIRES!
WISPA Wireless List: email@example.com