Those of you under 30 may never have heard of Dennis Hayes.
But once he was somebody. I knew him. His was one of the first tech stories I wrote in Atlanta, back in 1982.
Dennis Hayes made modems. His company, Hayes Microcomputer Products Inc., dominated the market for PC modems in the 1980s. A modem, short for modulator-demodulator, would turn data into tones, then send those tones along the phone line, so an analog system could mimic a digital one.
As modems approached the 64,000 bit/second speed level, in the early 1990s, Hayes wanted to move data faster. He called me in one day to show me what he was up to.
It was something called ISDN. It was an all-digital system. It was faster than modems. It was cool.
But in order to get to ISDN, Hayes needed the cooperation of the Bell companies. They promised cooperation. They said they were committed. He waited and waited. He bet the company on ISDN.
And he lost. He lost it all. By the time the Bells began offering real digital services, in the late 1990s, they were offering ADSL. Originally considered an alternative to cable TV (yes, really), ADSL offered 1.5 Mbps downloads and 384 kbps uploads, while sharing the line with your phone. But by the time ADSL became a player, Hayes was bankrupt, gone, out of business by 1998.
The moral: don’t trust a Bell company. Don’t bet on a Bell company fulfilling its promises. Ever.
But that’s just what the USA is doing, right now. Once again the Bell companies have made promises. FIOS, Lightspeed. They have made these promises for 10 years. They have reneged on all their earlier promises, and before they meet these (or claim to meet them) they demand, not only a monopoly on their lines, but control of the Internet itself.
The Bells want tribute from Web sites, they want the right to favor some over others, they want to define every service the Internet can deliver at the edge at the center, and they promise to hoard bits until they get what they want. With 1990s technology, in fact, you could have 7 Mbps ADSL. Just strip out the portion of the bandwidth used for voice. Use VOIP instead. God knows what you could get with 2006 technology, on an ordinary copper line.
But the Bells won’t give it to you. They want to cut copper when they bring in fiber. They expect you to power the fiber. And they will define the terms for all those customers, forever.
This is their promise. They promise to get to you with this miracle Real Soon Now. FIOS. Lightspeed. It’s going to be wonderful.
Right now the government at every level – federal, state and local -- is doing exactly what Dennis Hayes did. And We the People are being left behind as a result. We’re being bankrupted, all of us, because the Bells are hoarding our bits, demanding everyone pay them tribute, making promises they have no intention of keeping.
Internet connections are like a giant road network. They’re basic infrastructure for the information age. The Bells are giving us oxcarts while other countries get superhighways.
It’s time to say enough.