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Podcast Episode: Antitrust/Pro-Internet

EFFector - Volume 2, Issue 1 - Build The National Public Network: An Open Letter to the Internet


EFFector - Volume 2, Issue 1 - Build The National Public Network: An Open Letter to the Internet

########## ########## ########## | BUILD THE NATIONAL PUBLIC NETWORK:|
########## ########## ########## |     An Open Letter to the Internet|
####       ####       ####       |                                   |
########   ########   ########   |       EFF TESTIFIES IN WASHINGTON:|
########   ########   ########   |     Excerpts from the EFF proposal|
####       ####       ####       |      to the House Sub-committee on|
########## ####       ####       |     Telecommunications and Finance|
########## ####       ####       |                                   |
EFFector Online             November 6, 1991       Volume 2, Number 1|

			  An Open Letter from
		   The Electronic Frontier Foundation

Dear Friends of EFF:

Telecommunications in the United States is at a crucial turning point.
With the Regional Bell Operating Companies (the RBOCS) now free to provide
content as well as conveyance, the push for dominant shares of the market
for information services will begin with a vengeance.  How to shape and
control this burgeoning market is a problem that has been thrown from the
courts into the lap of Congress.  But, for the past decade, Congress has
been hearing only two voices in the debate over telecommunications policy.

To widen this circle the EFF has joined the debate between the Regional
Bell Operating Companies (the RBOCs) and their opponents over the future of
telecommunications.  We have done so to break the deadlock that has kept
this nation from developing an affordable, open, and accessible information
network; a system we call the National Public Network (the NPN).  Creating
this network is one the EFF's main missions.  We would now like to urge the
entire Internet community to join us in helping to implement a technology
on which we can begin to build the National Public Network.

Last week, in testimony before the House Sub-committee on Telecommunications
and Finance of the Energy and Commerce Committee, the EFF proposed that
Congress act to deploy a ubiquitous, affordable communications platform,
based on the extant technology of the Integrated Services Digital Network
(ISDN), to every home, office, and school in the country.  In outline, our
proposal asks:

     1) that the nation employ existing ISDN technology to give the
        ability to telecommunicate affordably, ubiquitously, and
        easily to all those with a copper-wired telephone connection;
     2) that we use the existing technology and infrastructure of ISDN
        to begin building of the National Public Network now;
     3) that we stop waiting for the nation to spend hundreds of
        billions of dollars and decades to rewire with fiber optics;
     4) that we act now to reap the benefits of affordable connectivity
        for all;
     5) that we use existing technology in order to gain experience
        in the human uses and benefits of networking;
     6) that this technology be priced like local voice service.

                  The Telecommunications Standoff

The main reason that the U.S. has stalled in the development and and
deployment of information technology is that the two-sided debate over
policy is so polarized that compromise is exceedingly difficult to reach.

One side is formed by the RBOCs.  The other side is a coalition of print
and electronic publishers, long-distance carriers and the cable television
industry.  This coalition fears that if the RBOCS are allowed to provide
content as well as conveyance, the market will never become truly

The RBOCs, as described by their opponents, have vast sources of capital.
The RBOCs can control local exchanges and services critical to marketing
and distributing information services.  In sum, according to the opposition,
the RBOCs are seen as regional monopolies in search of yet more arenas to

In their defense, the RBOCs assert that they no longer have monopoly
control over local exchange facilities.  They also assert that the benefits
of the information age will only reach the mass consumer market when they
are allowed to bring their special resources and expertise to the medium.
They claim that their opponents fears are overstated; that they can be the
message as well as the medium.

Everyone now involved in the debate agrees on the need for legislative
safeguards.  If the RBOCs are to provide information services over their
own common carrier networks, we need to take steps to ensure a level
playing field for all.  Proposed safeguards include a requirement that the
RBOCs create subsidiaries to produce and market information services at
arms' length from the network carriage divisions.  Other safeguards include
pricing rules which would ensure that affiliated information providers pay
the same rates for information transmission services as are charged to
unaffiliated providers.

The EFF agrees that many of the proposed safeguards are necessary.  But it
also knows that the central issue is to create a network that is open,
free, and accessible to all, not just one that works for an association of
business interests.  The EFF believes that what has been lost in this
debate is a concrete focus on how best to meet the telecommunications needs
of the American public.  The EFF feels that this should be the primary goal
of a national network.  With our current draft proposal we also think that
there is a way out of the current standoff through a blend of politics and
intelligently applied existing ISDN technology.

Over the last year and a half, the EFF has, with the support and hard work
of many individuals and organizations, become a voice that is heard and
respected in the legislative and policy arenas. With the continued help and
support of the Internet, we can build on this work and make "the voice of
the Internet" a significant force in shaping the communications
infrastructure in this country.

We believe that those with Internet experience should be part of the
process that determined the shape, cost, and future of information
technology in the coming decade.

At the conclusion of our testimony in Washington last week, the
Sub-committee expressed keen interest in our ISDN concept, and encouraged
us to develop the proposal in detail.  When we mentioned that much of the
proposal originated with our friends and members, the committee asked for
more detailed input from the networking community and computer industry.
We are appending excerpts from the testimony to this letter.

What You Can Do

Based on this positive response from Congress, members of the EFF and the
Internet now have the opportunity to break the deadlock that has hamstrung
the development and widespread use of information technologies for years.
In the coming months the EFF will be working, with the help of our members
and concerned networking constituents, on a fully detailed proposal to
bring this about.  We are calling this effort "The Internet Brain Trust."
We would like to ask you to join us in this effort, whose progress we will
continue to describe in this publication.

First, we urge you to join the EFF if you are not already a member.  This
implies a minimum of financial support as well as the willingness to stand
up and be counted as an active supporter.  While the financial consideration
is important to us, we'd like to stress that it is *much more* important in
political terms for us to have as many members as possible.  We need to be
able to show not only the efficacy of our proposals, but the extent of our

Second, if you only wish to monitor the progress of this project over the
coming months you may, from time to time, send an email request to  All you have to do is include the line "Send documents
braintrust" in either the subject line or the body of your letter and you
will receive the latest documents via return email in a short time.

Third, it is essential for us to have the benefit of the distributed mind
and experience of the Internet in forging the details of the proposal we
will ultimately submit to Congress.  If you wish to be an active
participant in contributing to the shaping of our detailed proposal,
*especially* its technological aspects, please join our new, moderated
mailing list ibt (Internet Brain Trust) mailing list by sending mail to

The Electronic Frontier Foundation



OCTOBER 24, 1991


The Infrastructure Challenge

Mr Chairman, I view the lifting of the information services restrictions by
Judge Green as a pivotal moment for our nation's communications future.

If Congress is to address these issues effectively, it must first re-frame
the current debate.  While the entry of the seven Regional Bell Operating
Companies into the information services market poses serious dangers of
anti-competitive behavior -- because of their bottleneck control over the
local phone loop -- erecting appropriate safeguards must not be the
overarching goal of communications policy.  Neither should "lifting the
restrictions" on information services or manufacturing be the goal of
public policy as the RBOCs advocate.

Public policy must be guided by an overarching social vision of what I call
the National Public Network, a vibrant web of information links to serve as
the main channels for commerce learning, education, politics, and
entertainment in the future.  This network will include the voice telephone
service that we are already so familiar with, along with video images,
sound, and hybrid forms of communication.

To build the National Public Network will require more than safeguards,
entry level tests or new telephone company investment in information
services and fiber optics.  It will require Congress to establish in
legislation basic standards, requirements, regulatory mechanisms and
incentives that will:

    -- establish an open platform for information services by speedy
       deployment of "Personal ISDN" nation-wide --ensure competition
       in local exchange services --promote First Amendment free
       expression by reaffirming the principles of common carriage
     --foster innovations that make networks and information services
       easy to use
     --protect personal privacy
     --preserve and enhance equitable access to communications media.


Create an open platform for innovation in information services by speedily
deploying a nation-wide "Personal ISDN" which offers an affordable,
end-to-end digital service platform capable of reaching into every home,
business, and school in the U.S.

In the evolution of the NPN, information entrepreneurship can best be
promoted by building with open standards and by making the network
attractive to as many information service providers and developers as

The most valuable contribution of the computer industry in the past
generation is not a machine, but an idea--the principle of open
architecture.  Typically, a hardware company (an Apple or IBM, for
instance) neither designs its own applications software nor requires
licenses of its application vendors.  Both practices were the norm in the
mainframe era of computing.  Instead, in the personal computer market, the
hardware company creates a "platform"--a common set of specifications,
published openly so that other, often smaller, independent firms can
develop their own products (like the spreadsheet program) to work with it.
In this way, the host company takes advantage of the smaller companies'
ingenuity and creativity.

In the early stages of development of an industry, low barriers to entry
stimulate competition.  It should be as easy to provide an information
service as to order a business telephone.  Large and small information
providers will probably coexist as they do in book publishing, where the
players range from multi-billion-dollar international conglomerates to
firms whose head office is a kitchen table.  Large and small publishers can
coexist because everyone has access to production and distribution
facilities--printing presses, typography, and the U.S. mails and delivery
services--on a non-discriminatory basis.

To achieve the information diversity currently available in print in the
new electronic forum, we must guarantee widespread accessibility to a
platform of basic services necessary for creating information services of
all kinds.  The platform of services offered must: (1) have a critical mass
of features and capabilities; (2) be ubiquitous; (3) be affordable.

Some suggest that the technology necessary to offer such a platform is far
off and would require billions of dollars of investment in fiber optics.

Actually, we have a platform that meets these criteria within our reach
right now.  Personal ISDN (Integrated Services Digital Network) could make
voice, data, video, high-speed fax, video, and multimedia services
available TODAY to telephone subscribers all around the country.  ISDN as a
key information services technology is well-known in the communications
industry, but its potential as a universal platform is not properly
appreciated, nor has it been properly positioned by the RBOCs as a service
for everyone.

The personal computer transformed the image of the computer from that of
hulking mainframes imprisoned in glass-walled temples to friendly desktop
machines capable of performing a wide variety of useful tasks.  Just as the
desktop personal computer represented the revolutionary platform for
innovation of the 1980's, it is my belief that ubiquitous digital
communications media, such as are enabled by ISDN, represent the hope of
the 1990's.

Personal ISDN can enable the citizen's access into the Information Age.
The key attributes of a Personal ISDN are that, as a platform, it possess a
critical mass of enabling features and capabilities for individual use;
and, as a service, that it be positioned, priced, and marketed to be of
interest to and within the reach of everyone.  ISDN must be re-positioned
as a basic service, available to consumers and small businesses.  This
service can be the test bed for a whole new generation of information
services which could benefit the American public.

A Critical Mass of Features and ISDN

Many of the capabilities once thought to be possible only on an all-fiber
network, such as interactive full-motion video can be achieved to a
significant degree over Personal ISDN.  This is due to continuing
revolutions in microelectronics and software which enable compression of
video signals by a factor of 100 without significant loss of quality.
Given this, it is possible to use copper wire-based ISDN to carry video
signals to their destination, at which point they are uncompressed through
use of increasingly inexpensive processors, which are built-in to
computers, televisions, and other consumer electronic equipment.  If
uncompressed, carriage of these video signals would require hundreds of
billions of dollars of replacement of existing wiring in the local loop.

Ultimately, there is a crucial role for an end-to-end fiber optic network.
While we have not yet reached the limits of what can be done with video
compression, in the end there will be some services, such as
high-definition television, which will require the bandwidth of fiber
optics.  It would be a huge mistake, however, to commit the enormous funds
required to build such a network and to wait until the next century for its
deployment without accumulating a generation of experience based on lessons
of the marketplace which can be achieved through a Personal ISDN-based

We have reached an effective limit to the usability of the current
voice-grade telephone network for information services.  Current bulletin
boards and on-line services use existing voice-grade telephone lines for
user access.  These include 30,000 computer bulletin board systems (BBSes)
with millions of users, in addition to the millions of Prodigy, Compuserve,
and other commercial services.  It's a healthy start, but expansion is
hampered by inadequate infrastructure imposed by trying to overlay computer
use on top of a network designed for voice telephony.  Problems include
lack of standardization; slow speeds; noisy, error-filled channels; and the
difficulties of use and barriers created by these factors.  As a result of
these barriers, the vast benefits of new information technologies are
denied to all but the computer-literate -- those who have the technical
skills to navigate the complexities of today's information services.

What is needed is to raise the floor by creating a new standard, minimum
platform for information exchange.  ISDN, repositioned as Personal ISDN,
can provide a faster, cleaner digital platform for information users around
the country.  It will be easier to use, and allow information entrepreneurs
to offer a vast array of services to a broader user base.

Ubiquity and ISDN

To create a market for information services, everyone must be able to reach
the platform.  We must build the new public network by making it easy for
people to connect to it with a few simple decisions.  Again, an analogy to
the personal computer market is helpful.  Minicomputers and mainframes were
marketed to companies.  Microcomputers (PC's) were marketed to individuals.
We need to build a platform that can reach into individual households and
small businesses in order to stimulate the development of information
services that will meet the needs of those users.

Personal ISDN-- which can be provided over the existing copper plant that
comprises today's public switched network -- can reach into every home and
every small business without laying a single mile of fiber optic cable.
Telephone company data indicates that over the next three years majority of
central office switches will be upgraded to requisite digital capability.

Affordability and ISDN

Platform services, even if they are ubiquitous, are useless unless they are
also affordable to American consumers.  Just as the voice telephone network
would be of little value if only a small fraction of the country could
afford to have a telephone in their home, a national information platform
will only achieve its full potential when a large majority of Americans can
buy access to it.  We need an information platform that is priced as a
basic service, on par with voice services, so that a choice to sign up is
no more or less burdensome than subscribing to basic telephone service or
cable television.

All available information indicates that ISDN can be priced as a basic
service.  The cost of carrying a digital ISDN call from the customer to the
local switch is just the same as an analog voice call in the digital
switching regime that ISDN pre-supposes.  There are some fixed investment
costs still to be incurred to upgrade the nation's central office switches
in order to handle ISDN traffic, but commitments to these investments are
already largely made.

ISDN as the Platform for the NPN Today

For all of the reasons I have cited, ISDN would be an ideal platform for
the creation of a variety of new information services.  Yet it is not being
made available to the American public.  Today, even in Washington, DC -- a
city that is one of the major information hubs of the country -- it is
impossible to order standard ISDN service from the local phone company.

Progress towards realizing the vision of the National Public Network will
best be achieved through a series of incremental steps as our society
learns how to use digital media.  No one can guarantee when an application
as useful as the spreadsheet will emerge for the NPN (as it did for
personal computers), but open architecture based on a Personal ISDN is the
best way for it to happen and let it spread when it does.

The next incremental step should be the deployment of a medium-speed
digital infrastructure based on ISDN which can be readily adapted for use
by information entrepreneurs today.  It will not require large capital
investment, which could drive up basic rates.  It can be leveraged by use
of computer technology of desktops, laptops, and palmtops.  In years to
come every home and office may be attached to the National Public Network
with a fiber optic link.  But this is hundred of billions of dollars and
years away.  We have to crawl before we can run to the field of dreams.

Summation and First Principles

Much of the current debate about the future of the telephone network is
defined by the opposition of two sets of large forces - the local Bell
Operating Companies, on one side, and other carriers and publishers on the
other.  But often as not, the creation and emergence of new industries
depends more on outsiders and new entrants who rely more on ingenuity than
capital to develop the breakthrough concepts and systems which result in
explosive growth.  The personal computer industry was sparked by the
contributions of industry outsiders like Steve Jobs, Bill Gates, and myself
to grow from nothing to $100 billion in just over a decade.  A personal
ISDN platform would give a new generation of information entrepreneurs a
chance to show what they can do.  To the extent we can open up the process
from one dominated exclusively by well-fortified corporate interests to one
in which entrepreneurs have a chance, we improve the chances of another
entrepreneurial revolution.  If we build the right platform and we lower
the barriers to entry to invite in all who want to play, I am convinced the
entrepreneurs will find it, and, with the sure, invisible hand of market
feedback, will help realize the vision of the information age.

In addition to the fundamental value of openness, the platform that we
propose should also be governed by the following principles:

Ensure Competition in Local Exchange Services
To reduce the threat of bottleneck control over local exchange facilities
by the Bell companies, Congress must act now to ensure competition in local
exchange services.  Competition will promote innovation in these services
on which information providers rely, and help guarantee equal access to all
local exchange facilities.

Promote First Amendment Free Expression by Affirming the Principles of
Common Carriage
In a society which relies more and more on electronic communications media
as its primary conduit for expression, full support for First Amendment
values requires extension of the common carrier principle to these new
media.  Common carriage principles would require that public communications
carriers offer their conduit services on a non-discriminatory basis, at a
fair price, and interconnect with other communications carriers.

Make the Network Simple to Use
Today's public switched telephone network is easy to use and adaptable for
use by people with special needs.  Information services that become part of
this network should reflect this same ease-of-use and accessibility.

Protect Personal Privacy
The infrastructure of the National Public Network should include mechanisms
that support the privacy of personal information and personal communication.

Preserve and Enhance Equitable Access to Communications Media
The principle of equitable, universal access to basic services is an
integral part of today's public switched telephone network.  We must ensure
that all Americans have access to the growing information services market
now and in the future.



After a number of requests and much discussion, we have created a new
membership category for EFF.  This membership allows organizations to join.
This membership fee is $100.00 annually.  The sponsoring organization can,
if it wishes designate up to five individuals as active members in the
organization.  Five copies of EFFECTOR and all other materials produced by
or made available by the EFF will be sent to the organization or the
designated members.


In order to continue the work already begun and to expand our efforts and
activities into other realms of the electronic frontier, we need the
financial support of individuals and organizations.

If you support our goals and our work, you can show that support by
becoming a member now.  Members receive our quarterly newsletter, EFFECTOR,
our bi-weekly electronic newsletter, EFFector Online (if you have an
electronic address that can be reached through the Net), and special
releases and other notices on our activities.  But because we believe that
support should be freely given, you can receive these things even if you do
not elect to become a member.

Your membership/donation is fully tax deductible.

Our memberships are $20.00 per year for students, $40.00 per year for
regular members.  You may, of course, donate more if you wish.

Our privacy policy: The Electronic Frontier Foundation will never, under
any circumstances, sell any part of its membership list.  We will, from
time to time, share this list with other non-profit organizations whose
work we determine to be in line with our goals.  But with us, member
privacy is the default.  This means that you must actively grant us
permission to share your name with other groups.  If you do not grant
explicit permission, we assume that you do not wish your membership
disclosed to any group for any reason.

>>>---------------- MEMBERSHIP FORM ---------------<<<

Mail to: The Electronic Frontier Foundation, Inc.
         155 Second St. #21
         Cambridge, MA 02141

Yes, I want to support the EFF and the initiative for a National Public
Network, as well as become a member.  I enclose:$__________
$20.00 (student or low income membership) $40.00 (regular membership)
$100.00(Corporate or company membership.  This allows any organization
to become a member of EFF.  It allows such an organization, if it wishes
to designate up to five individuals within the organization as members.)

[ ] I enclose an additional donation of $___________



Address: __________________________________________________

City or Town: _____________________________________________

State:_______ Zip:________ Phone:(     )_____________(optional)

FAX:(     )____________________(optional)

Email address: ______________________________

I enclose a check [ ].
Please charge my membership in the amount of $_____________ to my
Mastercard [ ] Visa [ ] American Express [ ]


Expiration date: ____________

Signature: ________________________________________________


I hereby grant permission to the EFF to share my name with other non-profit
groups from time to time as it deems appropriate [ ].

The EFF is a non-profit, 501c3 organization.  Donations to the EFF
are tax-deductible.

|                   EFFector Online is published by                  |
|                  The Electronic Frontier Foundation                |
|                 155 Second Street, Cambridge MA 02141              |
|               Phone: (617) 864-0665 FAX: (617) 864-0866            |
|                     Internet Address:                  |
| Reproduction of this publication in electronic media is encouraged |
|               To reproduce signed articles individually,           |
|          please contact the authors for their express permission.  |

                   "You've got to stand for something,
                       Or you'll fall for anything."

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