The electronic mailbox over at the Federal Communication Commission has been filling up quickly over the past few weeks. In a recent four-day period, the FCC received about 80,000 messages concerning the same issue -- whether Internet Service Providers should pay local telephone companies per-minute charges for use of their phone systems.
The local phone companies are complaining that their networks are congested by all those 'Net surfers using their phone lines to connect to their ISPs. The phone companies say they should be allowed to charge the ISPs in the same way they charge long-distance carriers for use of the local phone networks.
As you might imagine, Internet users are not terribly excited about this prospect.
Should the charges be allowed, you can bet the ISPs aren't going to eat them. If the ISPs are charged by the minute for access via local phone networks, the extra charges will be passed right on to subscribers.
Let's say, for example, that you use your dial-up Internet access account about one hour a day throughout the month, on the average. If just one extra penny per minute were assessed by the local phone company, an extra $18 would show up on your bill each month. If you're paying the usual $20 a month for Internet access, the extra charges just about double your financial burden. And many Internet users are online much more than an hour a day.
I know several families where nearly everyone in the family is a 'Net user -- it is easy to imagine that family use of the Internet in many households totals a good deal more than 30 hours a month. Even an extra penny a minute would significantly increase costs.
Some users argue that the upsurge in local dial-up access to the Internet has actually benefited the local phone companies, because many users have opted to get a second phone line just for data, rather than have their voice line tied up for hours each day.
Proponents of the additional fees argue that the fees would create incentives for the phone companies to enhance and upgrade their networks and equipment to better support the increased demands on those systems. Some have been calling for this kind of phone network infrastructure improvement since the electronic bulletin-board system boom of the early 1980s.
At the moment, the FCC seems inclined not to allow the per-minute charges, but the issue hasn't been settled. FCC invites comments on this issue until March 24. You can find the topic on the FCC Web page at http://www.fcc.gov/isp.html, and you can send e-mail comments to isp
-- Doug Heacock is director of the Kansas Research and Educational Network at Kansas University. You may address questions to him in care of the Lawrence Journal-World, 609 N.H., Lawrence 66044, or e-mail him at heacock