Old Wives' Tales
Radio & TV
Toxin du jour
Claim: Congress will soon be voting on whether or not your phone company will be allowed to charge you long-distance rates for accessing the Internet.
Example: [Collected on the Internet, 1999]
Origins: Neither the FCC nor Congress is considering — much less voting on — legislation that would impose (or allow phone companies to impose) per-minute access fees on Internet users. Recent decisions by the FCC in this area have dealt only with the issue of how phone companies reimburse each other for handling calls placed to Internet service providers, not with the prospect of allowing phone companies to charge their customers long-distance rates for Internet use.
As soon as we get hold of something we really like at a reasonable price, we start worrying that it will be banned, taxed, or made too expensive for us to afford. The Internet is no exception, as our old friend — the capitalized, exclamation pointed, "send this to everyone you know" anonymous
Way back when in 1987, the Federal Communications Commission did consider imposing a surcharge for transmitting data over the public telephone network, but they ultimately rejected the idea (thanks in part to the more than 10,000 letters of complaint they received). Unable to believe our good fortune (the government wasn't going to make us pay through the nose for dialing up all those neat computer bulletin boards we'd discovered), we couldn't leave well enough alone, and in 1991 a flood of urgent messages warning us that the FCC was again considering a proposal they'd rejected three years earlier hit
Fast forward to 1998. On-line services, the Internet, the World Wide Web,
First of all, a little background. Most of us still have to dial up over a modem and connect to an Internet Service Provider (ISP) to access the Internet. If your ISP is in your local dialing area, you probably don't pay anything at all for the call, no matter how long you stay connected. This means you get to tie up a phone line with your modem for hours and hours on end, every day, at no charge beyond the price of basic phone service. And the party at the other end of the line — your ISP — isn't paying anything extra, either. It's easy to see that somebody has a chance to reap some windfall profits here. If the phone companies were allowed to charge you a per-minute fee for accessing the Internet (or the government were allowed to tax your use of the Internet), their coffers would soon overflow with cash.
Scary thought, isn't it? All the phone companies need, we hear, is to get the FCC to reclassify and/or regulate ISPs, and then the phone companies can charge gobs of extra money for handling Internet traffic. And Congress is just about to vote on that very issue, we're told.
In fact, there is no such proposal before Congress, and there never has been.
The only real issue before the FCC concerning Internet usage (and the genesis of this latest round of scaremongering) is the subject of "reciprocal compensation." In short, reciprocal compensation means that when you place a local call to someone who is serviced by a different phone company, your phone company has to compensate his phone company for completing the call. (On the other hand, when you place a long-distance call, the long distance carrier who handles the traffic has to pay access charges to your phone company for originating the call.) But if the "person" you're calling is an ISP, should your phone company have to compensate the ISP's phone company?
The subject of reciprocal compensation has been a hot issue of late because new local phone companies have been springing up all over the place. The bigger phone companies, figuring that they would have many more customers than their newer (and smaller) competitors, negotiated reciprocal compensation agreements with the new phone companies. Every time one of these little phone companies' customers placed a call to a destination outside his local service that ended up on the bigger phone company's network, the big phone company would get to collect money from the little phone company. Not a bad scheme, the big phone companies thought.
Ah, but some of the little guys had a neat trick up their sleeves. They started offering their services to Internet service providers — ISPs with banks and banks of modems that received thousands and thousands of calls every day, but never made any outgoing calls. All the reciprocal compensation started flowing one direction, from the big phone companies to the little phone companies, which wasn't what the big guys had in mind at all. "Foul," they cried. "Internet traffic flows all over the world," they noted. "Internet traffic is therefore interstate in nature and should be classified as long-distance, so the little guys should be paying us for originating the calls," they insisted. "We're not paying," they sputtered.
Enter the FCC to resolve the dispute, which they did (for now) on
A few important points related to the recent FCC decision:
No Consumer Per-Minute Charges to Access ISPs (FCC)
Users, Advertisers Await FCC Decision on Internet Charges (CNN)
Last updated: 3 February 2008
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