From the '60s to the FCC asking us about broadband use
March 8, 2010
by Mark Ollig

As a kid in the 1960s I recall watching George Jetson going to work in his flying aero car with the transparent bubble top.

I thought, someday everyone would travel this way.

It’s 2010 . . . so where is my flying car?

Looks like I have another 52 years to wait, as the futuristic Jetsons lived in the year 2062.

Today we find ourselves traveling along the digital informational superhighway known as the Internet.

The Internet is very common today – but not back in the late 1960s.

If you would have asked this adventurous 10-year old in 1968 what the Internet was, I would have probably answered, “some kind of a net to hold fish or frogs in?”

Unbeknownst to that 10-year old, the next year something historic would occur. The first actual message was sent between two host computers or “nodes” over what was called the Advanced Research Projects Agency Network or ARPANET, which, as we all know, evolved into today’s Internet.

A historical transmission occurred between a host computer located at UCLA in Los Angeles and another one located 400 miles north at the Stanford Research Institute Oct. 29, 1969.

Charley Kline, working at the UCLA host computer, was attempting to login to the host computer at Stanford, where Bill Duvall was located.

The first message was the start of the text word “LOGIN.” The “L” and the “O” letters were successfully transmitted – but then the system crashed.

The first “official” transmission of text sent over what is today the Internet was “LO.”

An hour later, the host computers recovered from the crash and the complete text of “login” was successfully transmitted.

During this historical moment, your humble columnist had just turned 11 years old and was out collecting frogs from around the neighborhood.

This was one of the outdoor activities kids did back in the ‘60s.

As I reminisce, it was a warm and sunny late autumn day; I had brought home probably around a hundred frogs during the afternoon.

I was keeping those frogs in large pails of water which I had innocently placed under my parents bedroom window.

Why did I keep the pails of frogs under their bedroom window? Because the outdoor water faucet was located right underneath their bedroom window, and when you’re 11 years old you think, “Why move the pails?”

Being it was warm out on that particular day, many of the windows (including my folks’ bedroom window) were left open.

So, at the end of the day, before I went into the house, I looked over the collection of frogs in the pails of water (I remember adding some grass and flies into the mix) and hoped no one would steal them. The frogs were fairly quiet and so I thought they would probably just sleep during the night.

The next morning, I eagerly went out to check on my frogs and discovered those frogs must have not slept much – I was about to soon discover that most frogs like to practice loud croaking sounds during the night.

This audible activity by the frogs was apparently not appreciated very much by my father, who had “released the frogs back into the wild” as evidenced by all the tipped over water pails lying scattered in the front yard.

I don’t recall my mom ever telling that 11-year-old boy the exact words my father had used to express his displeasure with the whole matter.

So ended my frog hunting adventures for 1969 and the rest of my childhood.

Last month, our friends at the Federal Communications Commission released an interesting 52-page summary report titled OBI (Omnibus Broadband Initiative) Working Paper Series No.1.

The reason for this summary report is to determine what is keeping Americans from obtaining higher broadband speed access to the Internet.

The source of this report was an FCC survey of 5,005 Americans in October and November of 2009.

This national FCC survey was conducted from a random telephone survey that interviewed 5,005 adult Americans, 2,671 of whom use “basic broadband” to access the Internet at home.

The 2,334 remaining in this survey either did not have broadband access in their homes, or said they did not use the Internet, or said they are Internet users – but without access to it from their homes.

This information was collected to better understand the current use of the Internet by the FCC and how access to faster broadband networks can be expanded to the people.

This FCC summary report classified the use of “broadband users” as those who said they used a cable modem, a DSL-enabled phone line, fixed wireless or satellite, a mobile broadband wireless connection, a fiber optic connection, or even a T-1 network to access the Internet.

In 2009, the FCC upgraded their definition of “basic broadband” as an always-on Internet connection with a minimum of 768Kbps in at least one direction, downstream or upstream.

Not everyone has a basic broadband connection.

Six percent of the 5,005 people surveyed said they use a telephone dial-up connection to access the Internet.

Page 28 of the report says about half of the dial-up users are satisfied with their service or are not heavy Internet users.

The OBI survey said that although a measurable majority of Internet users have the means to go online from home, 6 percent do not – they access the Internet away from home. These “not-at-home” users access the Internet possibly from work, or at the library – but not from where they live.

On page 27 under Exhibit 18, the percentages are given for the reasons why “non-users” of the Internet, surveyed don’t use the Internet.

Forty-seven percent say it’s the monthly cost and 46 percent say it’s because they are not comfortable around computers.

Surprisingly, thirty-five percent of the non-users said it was because there is nothing on the Internet they want to see or use.

Thirteen percent responded, because it is not available where they live.

FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski said in a recent statement, “To bolster American competitiveness abroad and create the jobs of the future here at home, we need to make sure that all Americans have the skills and means to fully participate in the digital economy.”

The full 52-page FCC OBI summary can be read at tinyurl.com/yc3pptm.

The Stanford Research Institute story of the first ARPANET message can be read at: tinyurl.com/y9mydj3.

The FCC’s National Broadband Plan web site is at www.broadband.gov.

The Queensland Frog Society’s web site is tinyurl.com/ylbgmh5.