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By Marie Knowlton

The idea of communication between humans was once limited to a face-to-face conversation.  We stood in front of each other and had a chat.  The phone allowed us to be apart and still hear each other’s voices.  Radio offered music and news for listening in our homes and cars.  Television gave us the opportunity to see actors and actresses perform in our living room.  Within a short time, our homes had more than one TV, several phones and maybe another car.

Computers were introduced into homes in the early ‘80s and only a few progressive folks took the plunge to add a computer the size of a small television into their home. Home computers were used primarily for writing, calculating and playing games. Very few programs existed. Programmers were busy trying to create the next greatest activity for the home computer.  Various low cost floppy disks were available to demo newly developed programs. A person would purchase a disk, install it in their home computer, and try it.  If you liked it, you could share it by passing along the disk.

In the background, the TV was moving slowly providing more content over newly-installed cable lines or through limited wireless satellite options.  The phone lines were beginning to accept data exchange, content was being brought in, and content was being sent out-- mostly through a keyboard like texting today.

Suddenly, in the ‘90s, both the cable lines and phone lines were being used for data exchange.  This was the beginning of the internet. There was great discussion on what to call this new service and “internet” became the acceptable term.  Though internet was available, what it could do was limited, but it was free.

Over the past 20 years the internet has burst forward and broken the lines between television, cable, telephone, satellite and radio.  Users can get internet on the TV, movies and TV on the phone, radio on the TV and phone, and telephone through the cable or satellites.

All of this adds to the amount of broadband available for each and every user to do whatever they want on whatever device they choose 24/7, at lightning speed.  In 2015, the federal government put regulations in place to protect users by giving them the right to equally have access to any form of broadband content that would be given to anyone else.  This right can be taken away with the 2017 FCC decision to end net neutrality.

The flip side is that owners and providers who give us access are limited to the amount of broadband that they can provide. There is only so much, and it is being used to the maximum.  Will they run out? I have no idea!  What are their choices? They could assign speed lanes and charge a toll. There is a possibility that Internet Service Providers (ISP) will need to sell bundled services similar to cable: News Channels, Weather Channels, Movie Channels, Music Channels, Sports Channels.  The ISP could charge for basic internet and then charge for the add-ons.

The vote by three FCC members removes the regulations and allows a free and open market, but throughout this country, localities are limited to one ISP or two. The competition is negligible.  Right now it’s in the hands of Congress. Will they support users or providers?

Marie Knowlton