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Years before the FCC became involved with set top boxes that connect to cable and satellite networks, they were involved with the connectioni of devices to the telephone network.
Until 1956, AT&T succeeded in prohibiting anyone to connect devices to their network -- claiming they might cause damage. That policy was challenged by the Hush-a-Phone,
would not let users connect anything bu AT&T manufactured phones to their network.
The FCC sided with AT&T in baning the Hush-A-Phone, which users put over the phone so people nearby could not hear what was being said. They succeeded for some time, but were overruled by US Court of Appeals, in 1956.
The claim that a Hush-a-Phone could damage the phone network seemed ludicrous -- it did no more than would cupping one's hand around the phone while talking.
The next challenge was a little more reasonable. The Carterfone enabled one to connect a radio transmitter/receiver to the phone network. It let one patch a short wave radio call into a phone conversation. In 1968, the FCC ruled in favor of the Carterfone and other devices as long as they conformed to the specification of the network.
That opened the path for connecting computers to the phone network, and we soon had acoustic couplers, that cradled the telephone handset in a device that enabled one to connect computers to the network.
The early terminals that connected to acoustic couplers transmitted and receive data at the rate of 10 characters per second. They gave way to modems that were connected electronically. The early telephone modems ran at 1,200 bits per second and improved over time until modem speeds reached 64kbps.
If the FCC and courts had succeeded in stopping the Hush-A-fone and Cartherphone companies, we might still be purchasing modems from monopoly phone companies and our choices limited to their products. The current disagreement over the open standard set-top box is the latest fight in the war between corporate profit and the public good.
I hope the FCC proposal succeeds, but that will not be the end of the story. The ISPs will try to raise their Internet connectivity charges in order to compensate for lost set-top box revenue. They will be able to do so as long as they remain local monopolies or small oligopolies.
#FCC #ATT #monopoly