Steve Wozniak to the FCC: Keep the Internet Free

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To whom it may concern:

I have always loved humor and laughter. As a young engineer I got an impulse to start a Dial-a-Joke in the San Jose/San Francisco area. I was aware of such humor services in other countries, such as Australia. This idea came from my belief in laughter. I could scarcely believe that I was the first person to create such a simple service in my region. Why was I the first? This was 1972 and it was illegal in the U.S. to use your own telephone. It was illegal in the U.S. to use your own answering machine. Hence it also virtually impossible to buy or own such devices. We had a monopoly phone system in our country then.

The major expense for a young engineer is the rent of an apartment. The only answering machine I could legally use, by leasing (not purchasing) it from our phone company, the Codaphone 700, was designed for businesses like theaters. It was out of the price range of creative individuals wanting to try something new like dial-a-joke. This machine leased for more than a typical car payment each month. Despite my great passion and success with Dial-a-Joke, I could not afford it and eventually had to stop after a couple of years. By then, a San Francisco radio station had also started such a service. I believe that my Dial-a-Joke was the most called single line (no extensions) number in the country at that time due to the shortness of my jokes and the high popularity of the service.

Yes, my guard stood hard when abstract threats
Too nobel to neglect
Deceived me into thinking
I had something to protect
Good and bad, I define these terms
Quite clear, no doubt somehow
Ahh, but I was so much older then
I'm younger than that now

-- Bob Dylan

Moving ahead, I have owned four homes in my life. None of these had cable TV, even though one was a new development where the law required cable. None of these had DSL, including my current home, which is only .8 miles up a hill from the populous (constant-homes) town I live in. I pay for a T1 line, which costs many times what DSL runs for about 1/10 the bandwidth. That's as close as I can come to broadband where I live. The local phone providers don't have any obligation to serve all of their phone customers with DSL. They also have no requirement to service everyone living in the geographic area for which they have a monopoly. This is what has happened without regulatory control, despite every politician and president and CEO and PR person since the beginning of the Internet boon saying how important it was to ensure that everyone be provided broadband access.

As a side note, I once phoned the cable company in the town I lived in. I could look from my bedroom window at homes ¾ of a mile away which had cable. I told the cable company that I would be willing to pay the cost of laying cable to my home. The cable company looked into it and got back to me that they could not do this because there were not enough homes on my hill to pay for the monthly rental of running their cable on telephone poles.

In the earliest days of satellite TV to homes, you would buy a receiver and pay a fee to get all the common cable channels. I had a large family (two adults, six kids) and felt like making every room a lot easier to wire for TV. Rather than place a satellite receiver in each room, I'd provide all the common channels on a normal cable, like cable companies do. In my garage, I set up three racks of satellite receivers. I paid for one receiver to access CNN. I paid for another to access TNT. I paid for others to access HBO and other such networks. I had about 30 or 40 channels done this way. I had modulators to put each of these channels onto standard cable TV channels on one cable, which was distributed throughout my home. I could buy any TV I liked and plug it in anywhere in the home and it immediately watch everything without having to install another satellite receiver in that room. I literally had my own cable TV 'company' in the garage, which I called Woz TV, except that I even kept signals in stereo, a quality step that virtually every cable company skipped.

Then I got this idea that I could pretty easily run my signal through the wires in conduits up and down our 60-home neighborhood. The neighborhood had been partially wired for cable before the cable company went bankrupt as the neighborhood was being developed. I phoned HBO and asked how much they would charge me just to be a nice guy and share my signal with 60 neighbors. What came back was an answer that I couldn't do such a personal thing. I had to be a cable company charging my neighbors certain rates and then a percentage of what I was charging, with minimums, had to be paid for HBO. I instantly realized that you couldn't do something nice in your garage as a normal person and I gave up the idea.

The Internet has become as important as anything man has ever created. But those freedoms are being chipped away.

When young, I remember clearly how my father told me why our country was so great, mainly based on the constitution and Bill of Rights. Over my lifetime, I've seen those rights disregarded at every step. Loopholes abound. It's sad. For example, my (Eisenhower Republican) father explained the sanctity of your home and how it could not easily be entered. It was your own private abode. And you had a right to listen to any radio signals that came because the air was free and if it came into your home you had a right to listen to it. That principle went away with a ban on radios that could tune in cell phone frequencies in the days of analog cell phones. Nobody but myself seemed to treat this as a core principle that was too much to give up.

Presented by

Steve Wozniak is a computer engineer who co-founded Apple Computer, Inc. with Steve Jobs. He created the Apple I and Apple II series computers in the mid-1970s. After earning the National Medal of Technology in 1985, Wozniak left Apple to work on various business and philanthropic ventures.

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