Hell's Bells: A Radio History of the Telephone; No. 6
Was it Mark Twain who once said, upon discovering that the Telegraph had been had now connected Maine and Texas. He says now that Maine and Texas can talk to each other, what are they going to say? People are not banging on the door to get online to get information services. So when your mission is to serve all the citizens, then you got a whole different world view than a free marketeer who wants to deliver a service to yuppies. I think what it gets down to is an attempt by the regulated monopolies to somehow be define what an essential public service is. Hell's Bells: A radio History of the telephone.
Well, ISDN has been characterized by some as an acronym for Innovations subscribers don't need, but if actually it stands for Integrated Switch Digital Network. Nicholas Johnson of the University of Iowa was an FCC commissioner during the late 60s and early 70s. He authored two key decisions which forever changed the history of the telephone. One was the Carter Phone Decision, which allowed the attachment of Non-AT&T products to the telephone network. And the other was the MCI case, which opened the door to competition in the long distance market. Taken together, these two decisions sent ever widening cracks through the old Bell system, leading to its breakup on January 1st, 1984. Now, a decade later, industry players are vying to be the oil companies of the information highway. We get these full page ads from the phone company about the wonderous things that are going to happen if only we turn the information business over to them and we have all
this broadband capability and so forth. So I think we need to ask how much of what this brave new world is offering us are things which in fact, we already have. I mean, there there's access today through that little twisted pair copper wire coming into your your phone. An incredible amount of data can flow back and forth over that slow scan, black and white video, telephone services, fax capability, email access to all kinds of databases, uploading and downloading textual material, enormous rates of speed. All that can be done with what's there right now. I mean, we don't need optic fiber to do that. We don't even need ISDN to do that. So I think we need to ask not what are all these wonderful things that are going to happen in the future, but of all those wonderful things that are going to happen in the future, what proportion of them will not be available to
us unless we have this multibillion or multitrillion dollar investment? Now, what I'm saying goes against my own interest because I'm a computer hobbyist, I'm an amateur radio operator. I mean, this is my hobby as well as my work. And and the more broadband capability that there is out there, the more fun I can have. But what I'm questioning is, is whether or not your grandparents, who would be perfectly content to have a black telephone with a rotary dial on it to talk to their friends, should have to pay three times what that telephone service costs in order that I can have all these toys or in order that the Fortune 500 can have access to real time color video conferencing capability. What your grandparents are, frankly, probably never going to use and certainly not going to use very often people are not banging on the door to get online to get information services. Communications Professor Herb Dautrich of Temple University.
I don't know. I understand that the Santa Monica PIN network is used rather sparingly. And a lot of other of these networks, I think what people were more likely to use are audio text networks, 900, 800 numbers and 500 numbers and things of that sort. And they're roughly 12 percent of the people in the country do make users make use of that, a lot of them for weather, for sports and things like that, whether we're going to it seems to me that we're going to have to provide some innovative way. For people to access this network had a hell of a lot lower cost than it is right now if we're going to use and ran other than for the elite. And it could be this could become a significant social problem, although it seems to me the first step in making people information rich is just plain old education. We haven't gotten there yet. And most people are not beaten, though, people are running around the city looking for information and a lot of what we've we've called the N ran the National
Research and Education Network will provide a broadband add capability for four academic scientists using supercomputers. Well, I think it's wonderful that, you know, they say the difference between the men and the boys is the price of their toys. And some of these men have very pricey toys. People want to play with space stations or are super colliding, super costly colliders, taking billions of dollars to create this stuff. I mean, I think it's wonderful that a scientist doesn't have to get on an airplane and fly three or 400 miles to the supercomputer, but he can stay at home and use this multitrillion dollar investment in order to play with it from home. But I think we do need to look at those costs and who, in fact, is going to benefit and the benefits at the margin. I think we need a rather substantial educational job right now to not just the American people, but in some ways primarily their so-called leaders and corporate executives and so forth, to bring everybody
up to speed on what's already out there in the way of equipment. I mean, this thing is just exploding so fast. And we we tend to forget the Alexander Graham Bell got his patents on the telephone in 1876. I know that because that's my postal box number and Iowa City, Iowa. And he got them in 1876. Now, by the 1940s, still one half of the American people did not yet have a telephone in their house 1940s. So I think that those of us who are computer hobbyists and electronics hobbyists of various kinds and we want to have one of everything and we want to be the first thing on our block to get it tend to forget that the rest of the population is sort of lagging about 20 years behind where we are. I mean, there's still an enormous number of people who do not have a 386 or 486 computer at home connected with a ninety six hundred baud
modem to the Internet, I mean, and who don't even know what I just said. And I think we need to grant ourselves a little more patience and a little more time. If it you know, if it took us 70 years to I used, say, the telephone company at one point they were running ads about business. Sales group was talking. And it was as if they had just discovered in this case, 100 years after the telephone, that you don't have to send salespeople with airplanes to live in hotels, that there's this new fangled device called the telephone that enables you to call up customers and sell in that way without moving human bodies around. And I said, look, you know, if 100 years after this thing was invented, you still have to remind the American business community that the telephone does exist and the rest of us have to be reminded to call our mothers on Mother's Day. You know, I think it's going to be a while before we really comprehend what the desktop computer offers this, let alone the palm tops and the personal communicators and geosynchronous locators
and all the rest of the stuff that's out there. To me, that's a sort of like a friend of mine calls it, the trickle down infrastructure, the idea being that we're going to build an infrastructure that will initially be available to those of us who can afford to use it, university people that have computers that have this, that and the other thing, you know, and then eventually information will be available to the general public. And it kind of bothers me if you're talking about something that's accessible to researchers at universities, it's not a public access network. And why should the public pay for it? Audrey Krauss is director of the consumer group Turn toward Utility Rate Normalization based in San Francisco. To use one of my least favorite analogies all put it in sports terms. It's kind of like if they say if we all just chip in a few dollars, we can build a new baseball stadium. Well, I don't go to baseball games, so why should I pay for a baseball stadium that I don't use? I use the telephone, but I may or may not
want my telephone connected to my TV and my computer and use it for a lot of other information services. I may or may not want to use my telephone to do my banking or call up an encyclopedia. Those are options and if I want those, I should pay for them. But telephones, basic telephones to call people to deal with emergencies is an essential public service. I think what it gets down to is an attempt by the regulated monopolies to somehow redefine what in a sense. Public service is and to say that all these visionary information technologies are somehow part of basic service. Well, I don't think they are and I don't think most consumer groups think they are. And I think it's in the public's interest to continue to define what is an essential public service
in a somewhat narrow way so that we can keep these essential services affordable and let the competitive marketplace take care of what is essentially an optional service. So the Aaron strikes me is is is an attempt to again provide a high tech network for research and development. They threw the word education in so as to say, well, the schools, too, can have it, but who's going to give the schools the money to have access to that network? Where's the where's the money going to come to allow us to get on the network? If all of us have to have a personal computer to get on the network at a personal computer costs, what, twelve hundred twenty dollars? Or you may get a cheaper one, but that's a decent price. How are the schools going to get on and how are the people who are not computer buffs going to get on it? How are we going to have universal information services?
It's a real question. I don't know. That's something that's going to have to be ironed out. And I think people are thinking about that now. Today, we hear so much about the information highway, a new infrastructure to link homes, schools, businesses and government together like never before, more business connections, vast entertainment choices, greater interactivity, global virtual communities of friends and associates. It's a tough concept to describe because you can't really see it yet. It touches everyone in very profound ways, just like its namesake, the interstate highway system. When a nation is seamlessly linked together with a uniform transportation web, travel and commercial opportunities expand dramatically. We use highways all the time, we depend on them without giving much thought to all that goes into the recipe for an effective highway. It must be easy to access, simple to understand, safe, swift and have the capacity to mix all kinds of traffic trucks, busses,
cars, motorcycles into one shared system. There must be on ramps and off ramps with networks of feeder streets and parking lots. There are highway patrols, repair and construction crews. Roadside assistance services and a universe of businesses and institutions which support the Highway Infrastructure, Department of Motor Vehicles, tax collectors, insurance agents, car dealers, tuneup shops, drive thru restaurants, road map publishers', toll collectors, traffic reporters, and, of course, oil companies, this interconnected interstate highway system works so well, we pretty much take it for granted in much the same way that we rely on our telephone and cable television systems and all the global interconnections behind them without a moment's thought. Now these systems are converging and merging, and there are state and national
efforts underway to organize this new cyberspace into a coherent, reliable system available to all. One such advocate is Barbara O'Connor, a communications professor at California State University, Sacramento and founder of the Alliance for Public Technology in Washington, D.C.. Most of the technologists and engineers argue that if the network is used in the same way that business uses at large corporations use it, that we have to be very concerned about capacity. And that really drives us as it has other countries who have made that choice already to a fiber environment, a landline fiber environment. That doesn't mean that it will be landline fiber in every city or in every county. It means that the Paramount network, the predominant network, will be fiber based. Most of the long distance companies are now fully fiber, and most of the regional phone companies are arguing for fiber. Cable industries are upgrading to fiber. So I think that's where we're moving. And that's really driven by the number of
transactions that will take place, the capacity and the need for both voice video and data, information video takes an awful lot more bandwidth. And so if you're talking about applications like distance learning or telecommuting, in a real sense, you're talking about a lot of bandwidth being used by the consumers of those services. And so you're really talking about fiber. Once everybody starts getting on and using it in new ways, that's probably a 20 year transition. You know this the way the interstate highway system was built. You know, the interstate highway system when it was put into effect, which was a public investment and probably looked at at that time as the biggest boondoggle or pork at its ripest. You know, when it was put in by Eisenhower initially, it served only those people that had cars initially. And it still does serve many larger communities. It bypassed a lot of small communities, called a lot of economic damage. At the same time, it increased revenue for large truckers and
people who take advantage of transportation. It didn't really help until everybody got a car. It wasn't a great value to them. Then, of course, it did something else, which is a little bit frightening. It took our attention off public transportation. And we still haven't got a good public transit system in the country. Well, I think we should keep in mind that if that as we've built freeways, we've created traffic congestion, tremendous auto accident deaths and air pollution. And so there are prices to be paid for this. And I'm always concerned when people talk about, gee whiz, technology is the wonder of the future. There is a downside to all of this. I mean, information technology is a polluting industry to create building computers, creating electronic systems. The entire electronics industry has an environmental downside that nobody seems to want to focus on. So I think it's worth being cautious about all of this.
And I think that. As a society, we should we should look carefully at the pros and cons of all of this before we get too far into it. Aside from the environmental considerations, the privacy issues are always a factor here as we as we get more into information technology and and telecommunications technology, people's personal privacy is suffering. We already have a lot of information about individuals that's compiled on databases and bought and sold for profit. And people don't like this. And as people become more aware of of what all is happening to their personal information, I think there's the risk of a tremendous consumer backlash occurring. I'm not as concerned about the technology push as I am making sure that the demand pull is there. And the only way you get that is by ensuring everybody has access to it, because then large institutional providers of information will come online education,
health and Human Services DMV, and then you'll start to have the kind of capacity that you need to make the numbers work economically. For hundreds of years, we have had public libraries where you can go to access whatever information you want. I think it's still important to consider public libraries as the source for this kind of information and far more important to make sure that our libraries have the resources in terms of computer terminals and databases and free ability for people to walk into a public facility like a library and dial into these services are school libraries, our university libraries, our public libraries should all have this. I'm not sure it's essential that every person has this in their home any more than I'm sure that it's essential that everybody has a copy of the Encyclopedia Britannica in their home library. Some people may consider that important, but not everybody does.
And not everybody can afford it because increasing numbers of people simply don't have the money to afford. Even basic phone service in basic electric and telephone service are essentials. I mean, that's where she and I differ. I don't assume that they're going to be one price gouge or out there, that we're all going to be dependent upon one network. That's why I carefully argue that you have to have certain elements that exist in any network that are mandated by the federal government, common carriage among them, privacy and security, intellectual property. Right. Restrictions then the software publishers are not at all unhappy to come on and let you do very cheap time and use, as long as they're guaranteed that they're going to get paid for the transaction. In the same way that you are with a phone network, I assume multiple providers, I assume, and they may have a network that I can get into or McGraw-Hill, they're big enough to do it. And if you have competition in that environment, then it's not in anybody's interests
to gouge you. I mean, then you can just move to another network. I think Audrey's stuck in the you know, the PAC bell is going to be the big octopus that's going to suck us dry if we allow them to expand. And that's not the argument that we're trying to make. We're trying to make the argument that the highway needs to get there and it may be a different highway and we'd than it is in Bakersfield. It may be a digital cellular highway that gets you out of weed onto the platform. It may be Pacific Bell in Sacramento, but in Sacramento, with a brand new cable system with 120 channels, it may, in fact, be much cheaper to use cable here. That will be dictated by the market. But whoever provides it, no matter where it is, has to provide the same thing to the customer. And they have to provide it with the protections that we deem in a policy document that are essential. We put in an optic fiber network in Iowa and at enormous cost without really first adequately, in my view,
running some pilot projects. I mean, if it was it, Mark Twain once said upon discovering that the Telegraph had been had now connected Maine in Texas, he says now that Maine and Texas can talk to each other, what are they going to say? If that was a problem for Mark Twain, I think it's still a problem for us. I mean, suppose you have every grade school and high school and public library and so forth connected to this backbone. What are they going to do with it? I mean, in fact, day by day, hour by hour, who is going to use it, which student, which teacher to do what? And I think that in order to provide the greatest benefit to the schools and libraries and individual citizens and whatever, we need to run some pilot projects, connect up a couple of schools and see what they do. You know, have somebody. Pay the whole bill so it's free for them and just see how would you use it if you had it, if you connected a grade school to the Internet? What would the grade school teachers do with that?
What would the principal do with that? How would they use that? Now, obviously, you need some instruction. And because as Tommy Smothers used to say to choice, you'll never know is the choice you'll ever make. So if you don't know that there's something out there that you can do with it, you're not going to be doing it. So it's a real good question. You know, when we've we've worked out a formula at the EdTech committee and also here in our own system at CSU that for every dollar you spend on hardware, be it either network hardware or that the C.P.E., the customer premise equipment, you have to plan on an equal dollar for training and an equal dollar for what we call curriculum resources in education, which would be courseware development, software acquisition. So you're really talking about a Formula One one one and hardware is the the first dollar and then you spend the rest on training and courseware. You know, in many countries when telephone service is first put in, there is a one telephone per community
and the telephone is often located in the local post office. And you go there if you want to make a phone call. Now, that's not a bad way to start off. And I think with many of these online services, it makes a lot of sense to have them operated out of a public library or a school where you can have someone there who knows how the system works, who can provide some training for people. I mean, you don't need to have it in everybody's home. For starters, you can you can start off with the start off with the library. And there's a place people can go that they want to do. It's a place they're used to going now. But that's going to require some education of librarians as to what's available and what kind of services they can offer and how they need to price for them and so forth. But the main argument in education is you can't spend the training dollar in the course where dollar until you got the first dollar spent because everybody has to be hooked up. You know, Kentucky just lost a huge lawsuit on equity of access to technology, a federal district court case. And California is facing one. I mean, we cannot continue to provide state money
for technology in very sizable proportion until every school has access to it. It's an equity issue. And, you know, Health and Human Services is in the same boat. The DMV is in the same boat. So when your mission is to serve all the citizens, then you've got a whole different world view than a free marketeer who wants to deliver a service to yuppies. We don't need fiberoptic into the home that would make basic phone service unaffordable. We simply don't need those things as part of our basic telephone infrastructure. And those who do need them should pay for them and they are available and generally affordable through competitive alternatives. Now, Andrew Jay Schwartzman is an attorney with the Media Access Project in Washington, D.C., a group which speaks up for the public interest in the changing world of communications policy. I believe that the lesson of the last 10 or 15 years
is that we should be right out front and acknowledge, identify and accept the need for external subsidies and rather than hide it with disguised and increasingly inefficient cross-subsidization, I believe we should be out front and we should say we need a universal service fund. We need to make a commitment to have all Americans hooked into the public telephone network terminals for people of all ages and geographic location and economic conditions, and the extent that some people can't afford to pay for it out of some sort of universal service fund, which is contributed to by by everyone, most especially business. You know, if I'm in the credit card business and we move to a paperless society, if I can't hook up to a terminal and my customers home
to deliver the bill, collect their money by debiting an account or to notify them if they haven't paid the bill, I don't have a customer. And unless we hook up everybody, business is going to suffer tremendously. So I think universal service is in the interest of everyone in the economy. We should all be willing to pay for it and let's be upfront about it. I mean, in order for a state agency to shift over and conduct its business electronically and reap the rewards that business large businesses have been reaping over the last 15 years, they have to assure that all of their service area, the people they are mandated to serve, can access. And so we're. Very concerned at the state level about equity, whether or not everybody can get on because we can't shift the paradigm until everybody's on, and that means not just technically, it means in terms of language access and barriers and disability access and barriers. The Americans with Disabilities Act has mandated that every service you
deliver be accessible to those with disabled or handicaps that they can't get ordinarily. So, I mean, those there's a different level of concern for public institutional providers. And that's really it's a direct parallel to what happened with the introduction of the phone service. Basically, government said we can do business really differently if everybody has access. And I think that's what's going to happen in this generation. When we built the highway system, we were building it in parts of the country and we were all paying for it when people didn't even have cars. And that was the model that it would serve global development, it would serve the infrastructure, would better serve the entire country if everybody was on it and certainly proved to be true. I think the same is true in the electronic highway, that the real benefits of it and the the next leap forward will come when everybody is on.
- Episode Number
- No. 6
- Producing Organization
- Western Public Radio (San Francisco, Calif.)
- Pacifica Multimedia (Firm)
- KPFA (Radio station : Berkeley, Calif.)
- Contributing Organization
- The Walter J. Brown Media Archives & Peabody Awards Collection at the University of Georgia (Athens, Georgia)
- AAPB ID
- Episode Description
- This is Episode Six. It focuses the competition to be the dominant company on the "information superhighway." Guest is former FCC Commissioner Nicholas Johnson.
- Series Description
- "Western Public Radio and Pacific Multimedia proudly submit this entry to the Peabody Awards committee -- Hell's Bells: A Radio History of the Telephone -- a no-holds-barred examination of the rise and fall of the world's largest and most powerful monopoly. Ten years after the breakup of AT&T, what has changed? Who has benefited? What do the lessons of history suggest for our future? "Hell's Bells accomplished something very rare -- providing listeners with rich historical insights into hot contemporary issues before the issues exploded across the nation's front pages (e.g., the TCI/Bell Atlantic merger). "The eight-part series was written and produced by Gregg McVicar, creator of The Privacy Project: Personal Privacy in the Information Age (1991), and Computers, Freedom, and Privacy (1992). Pacific Multimedia is a leader in the use of digital techniques to create and distribute high quality programming. Hell's Bells was digitally produced on the Digidesign ProTools? system and was initially broadcast from DAT tape in July 1993, then distributed to stations throughout California and selected national markets on Compact Disc in September. American Public Radio then began broad national distribution via satellite in December. Hell's Bells was also disseminated worldwide by Internet Talk Radio. Even the press materials and graphics were distributed on computer diskette to stations. In other words, we are not only talking about new trends in technology, we are introducing digital techniques into the mainstream of American radio broadcasting. "Underwriting: Hell's Bells: A Radio History of Telephone was made possible through the generous support of The Telecommunications Education Trust, established by the California Public Utilities Commission to educate rate payers and policy makers about the fast-evolving telecommunications environment."--1993 Peabody Awards entry form.
- Broadcast Date
- Asset type
- Media type
Producing Organization: Western Public Radio (San Francisco, Calif.)
Producing Organization: Pacifica Multimedia (Firm)
Producing Organization: KPFA (Radio station : Berkeley, Calif.)
- AAPB Contributor Holdings
The Walter J. Brown Media Archives & Peabody Awards Collection at the
University of Georgia
Identifier: cpb-aacip-40f6ff9b0ec (Filename)
Format: Data CD
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- Chicago: “Hell's Bells: A Radio History of the Telephone; No. 6,” 1993, The Walter J. Brown Media Archives & Peabody Awards Collection at the University of Georgia, American Archive of Public Broadcasting (GBH and the Library of Congress), Boston, MA and Washington, DC, accessed June 27, 2022, http://americanarchive.org/catalog/cpb-aacip-526-dj58c9s81z.
- MLA: “Hell's Bells: A Radio History of the Telephone; No. 6.” 1993. The Walter J. Brown Media Archives & Peabody Awards Collection at the University of Georgia, American Archive of Public Broadcasting (GBH and the Library of Congress), Boston, MA and Washington, DC. Web. June 27, 2022. <http://americanarchive.org/catalog/cpb-aacip-526-dj58c9s81z>.
- APA: Hell's Bells: A Radio History of the Telephone; No. 6. Boston, MA: The Walter J. Brown Media Archives & Peabody Awards Collection at the University of Georgia, American Archive of Public Broadcasting (GBH and the Library of Congress), Boston, MA and Washington, DC. Retrieved from http://americanarchive.org/catalog/cpb-aacip-526-dj58c9s81z