The most common myth that appears in “net neutrality” debates, even ones that appear in our comment section, is that the internet needs regulation in order to stay “neutral.” In reality, the internet is as open and adaptive as it is because it has been free of government regulation. Slate’s Jake Shafer has fun with this fact with “A counterfactual history of cyberspace” that explores what could have happened “If the FCC Had Regulated the Internet.”
In January 1993, idle regulators at the FCC belatedly discover the burgeoning world of online services. Led by CompuServe, MCI Mail, AOL, GEnie, Delphi, and Prodigy, these services have been embraced by the computer-owning public. … The FCC declares that because these private networks use the publically regulated telephone system, they fall under the purview of the Communications Act of 1934. The commission announces forthcoming plans to regulate the services in the “public interest, convenience, and necessity.”
In late 1993, AOL and Delphi become the first online services to offer the Internet. The FCC orders both to drop the feature until the FCC’s labs approve it.
“We can’t have the online industry pushing out beta software on unsuspecting customers willy-nilly. Such software could compromise the users’ computers, interfere with other users’ computers, or crash the whole online world,” the FCC chairman says.
Because the Web has yet to catch on, eBay, Amazon, and ESPN.com do not launch in 1995. Michael Kinsley, who had been working with AOL on a proposed online magazine, returns to the New Republic as editor when AOL cancels the project.
In mid-2000, Andreessen has his first stroke of luck in almost a decade when Apple Computer hires him to join the team designing the original iPod. Andreessen’s first idea is to scale the iPod up. Instead of being just another MP3 player, the iPod should become a multipurpose computer that can accept text input, take photos, record video, make phone calls, and, yes, yes, yes, connect to his beloved Internet through its telephone connection.
Steve Jobs meets with Andreessen in an Apple cafeteria over coffee.
“You’re brilliant, kid,” says Jobs. “But the FCC would never allow us to enter the mobile-phone racket. Besides, their plan is for all existing mobile phones to become Minitel compliant and Internet ignorant.”