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.

I was also taught that space, and the moon, were free and open. Nobody owned them. No country owned them. I loved this concept of the purest things in the universe being unowned.

The early Internet was so accidental, it also was free and open in this sense. The Internet has become as important as anything man has ever created. But those freedoms are being chipped away. Please, I beg you, open your senses to the will of the people to keep the Internet as free as possible. Local ISP's should provide connection to the Internet but then it should be treated as though you own those wires and can choose what to do with them when and how you want to, as long as you don't destruct them. I don't want to feel that whichever content supplier had the best government connections or paid the most money determined what I can watch and for how much. This is the monopolistic approach and not representative of a truly free market in the case of today's Internet.

Imagine that when we started Apple we set things up so that we could charge purchasers of our computers by the number of bits they use. The personal computer revolution would have been delayed a decade or more. If I had to pay for each bit I used on my 6502 microprocessor, I would not have been able to build my own computers anyway. What if we paid for our roads per mile that we drove? It would be fair and understandable to charge more for someone who drives more. But one of the most wonderful things in our current life is getting in the car and driving anywhere we feel like at this moment, and with no accounting for cost. You just get in your car and go. This is one of the most popular themes of our life and even our popular music. It's a type of freedom from some concerns that makes us happy and not complain. The roads are already paid for. You rarely hear people complain that roads are "free." The government shines when it comes to having provided us pathways to drive around our country. We don't think of the roadways as being negative like telecommunication carriers. It's a rare breath of fresh air.

I frequently speak to different types of audiences all over the country. When I'm asked my feeling on Net Neutrality I tell the open truth. When I was first asked to "sign on" with some good people interested in Net Neutrality my initial thought was that the economic system works better with tiered pricing for various customers. On the other hand, I'm a founder of the EFF and I care a lot about individuals and their own importance. Finally, the thought hit me that every time and in every way that the telecommunications careers have had power or control, we the people wind up getting screwed. Every audience that I speak this statement and phrase to bursts into applause.

That's how the people think. They don't want this to encroach on their Internet freedom.

I was brought up being told that one of the main purposes of our government is to help people who need help. When I was very young, this made me prouder than anything else of my government. I felt that way until the year that the San Jose Draft board voted 5-3 to call me not a student because I'd submitted my grades instead of the proper form, and made me 1A for service in Vietnam. As soon as I got a safe draft lottery number, they sent me a letter saying that they would grant me a 2S student deferment, because then they could get a shot at me in a later year. What was this game? Why was the government doing this sort of thing to a citizen? They aren't always about helping the people.

We have very few government agencies that the populace views as looking out for them, the people. The FCC is one of these agencies that is still wearing a white hat. Not only is current action on Net Neutrality one of the most important times ever for the FCC, it's probably the most momentous and watched action of any government agency in memorable times in terms of setting our perception of whether the government represents the wealthy powers or the average citizen, of whether the government is good or is bad. This decision is important far beyond the domain of the FCC itself.

Sincerely,

Woz Signature.jpg

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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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