That much was made clear here at the Progress and Freedom Foundation's fifth Cyberspace and the American Dream summit on Tuesday. "You've got to go there [high-speed access], because the killer apps of the Net all depend on it," Jeffrey Eisenach, president of the Progress and Freedom Foundation, told ZDNN in an interview. "The long and short of it is , until you jump over the real-time video hump, you're not there."
While Eisenach doesn't know what those killer apps of tomorrow will be, he knows that, like e-mail, they'll be interactive. The more bandwidth, the more interactive the applications can be.
The frustration expressed by Eisenach and conference attendees is that the technology needed to build high-speed networks exists today.
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Technology exists -- but only in part
Some of it has already been deployed, too, in limited fashion, including Digital Subscriber Line (DSL) technology in the telephone world and cable television's two-way data transmission capability.
But while the blueprints are set and the initial digging is done, a finished structure is not imminent.
''Once you get a bite of [the Internet], you want more.'
-- Chris Shipley, DemoLetter editor
"We talk about DSL and other high-bandwidth technologies, but for most small businesses and consumers, things simply aren't there," said Robert Frankenberg, CEO of Encanto Networks Inc., in Santa Clara, Calif., during a panel discussion on "Deregulating Digital Transport: The Bandwidth Crisis and the Role of Government."
Afterwards, Frankenberg remarked, "It's an illusion that people can get access to high-bandwidth technology."
Another panelist, Charles Elderling, president of Telecom Partners Inc., a telecommunications engineering firm, remarked that building high-bandwidth telephone networks was fairly easy, "[until] we get to the ends of the network. ...The last mile is pretty dismal."
Conference attendees pointed plenty of fingers in answering just why consumers won't get high-speed access to the Internet until well into the first decade of the next century.
The main culprits:
Outdated telephony regulations, which keep prices artificially low for local users and bedevil telephone companies looking to enter new markets.
Lack of competition for building new infrastructure that can carry high-speed data.
The control of the infrastructure by regulated monopolies, in both the telephone and cable worlds.
The time needed to build the infrastructure, and the cost of building it.
FCC a popular target
The Federal Communications Commission bore the brunt of panelist frustration -- for not deregulating the telephone industry quickly or effectively enough to meet the needs of the Internet. But panelists also expressed frustration at the pace of rolling out technology.
The regulatory infighting is between the Federal Communications Commission and the regulated monopolies -- the telephone companies and cable television providers.
On the regulatory side, industry officials battered the FCC's representative, Chief of Office of Plans and Policy Robert Pepper, saying the FCC needs to rationalize the way it regulates both the broadcast cable and telephony industries.
Telephone company officials from both U S West and Bell Atlantic Corp. called on the government to effectively rewrite the Telecommunications Act of 1996, saying that while it was written to help increase the telephone industry, the act in fact has not done this.
Afterwards, moderator Peter Huber called it "an interesting paradox."
"Both sides say you've got to deregulate," Huber said, "but while Pepper thinks the FCC is on the right course, Tom [Tauke, senior vice president of government relations at Bell Atlantic] thinks it isn't happening at all."
AOL, Cox clash
The panel featured a testy exchange between George Vradenburg III, senior vice president and general counsel at America Online Inc., and Alex Netchvolodoff, Cox Enterprises Inc.'s vice president of public policy.
Netchvolodoff, who said Cox's entire cable network will have the potential to get cable-modem access by the end of 1999, several times challenged Vradenburg's seriousness, after Vradenburg said he was interested in reselling access to Cox's cable-modem network to AOL users.
At two different points, Netchvolodoff threw out challenges to Vradenburg, asking if AOL would assume the financial burdens, marketing burdens, technical burdens and more to roll out high-speed cable-modem access to its users.
Vradenburg said "yes" to every condition, which only seemed to irritate Netchvolodoff more. Their sparring continued after the panel ended.
Demand will develop
Still, while high-speed bandwidth isn't imminent for most consumers, industry observers expect it will happen, because consumer demand will develop for it.
"Once you get a bite of [the Internet], you want more," said Chris Shipley, editor of the newsletter DemoLetter.