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Old 03-07-2008, 05:53 AM posted to
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First recorded activity by GardenBanter: Jul 2008
Posts: 198
Default Further reading on the future

The Role of the ISP is Changing: Are You Ready?

Last week, we talked about how the Internet itself is changing. This week, I
want to discuss how ISPs are also evolving, and in the future may be serving
a role that's very different from the one they once served for Internet

Remember the "old days" when a service station actually provided service,
not just gasoline? Back then, you rolled up to the pump and a friendly
(well, sometimes) attendant came out to fill your tank - but that's not all;
he would also clean your windshield and even check your oil. You never had
to get out of the car or risk getting smelly gas on your hands.

In most places, those days are long gone. The business model for selling gas
has changed. Now the same thing is happening to another industry: Internet
Service Providers (ISPs). However, just as many folks weren't at all happy
with the transition to self-serve gasoline, lots of you are not happy with
new trends in the ISP business, either.

I recently received email from a reader named Jim, who reported that his ISP
has stopped providing email services for their customers and are now
"farming it out to Google." A few days later, a friend complained that Time
Warner/Roadrunner has "eliminated Usenet newsgroups." None of these people
were happy about the changes. As the first one said, "I asked how much they
are lowering my cable bill, but got no response ...". Unfortunately, this
practice of getting less for the same (or a higher) price seems to be
increasing in popularity far beyond the ISP industry.

In the early days of ISPs, they presented themselves as "full service"
companies. When you bought an Internet access account, you got more than
just access. You almost always got an email account (or several), access to
the ISP's NNTP (newsgroup) server and all of the newsgroups that it carried,
and a few megabytes of free space on their web server, where you could put
up your own web page. Even though none of those extra services were really
part of Internet access, any more than cleaning your windshield is part of
selling gasoline, customers came to expect that level of service. Those
customers get pretty irate when you take away something they've come to see
as part of what they're paying for.

On the other hand, we have all been paying for those extra services from the
beginning, whether we used them or not. My husband and I run our own
Exchange mail server and our own web servers on site, and we've subscribed
to Giganews (a paid newsgroup service) for a decade. The free mail accounts
and web space and news services that came with our Internet access accounts
went unused.

And in fact, more and more people now use Gmail or Hotmail or Yahoo Mail
accounts instead of the POP accounts provided by their ISPs, because it's
more convenient (they can get their mail from any computer using the webmail
services, without having to configure an email client) and it's free. Usenet
has declined in popularity over the years as web boards and peer-to-peer
file sharing have emerged to serve the same purposes (and for most people,
are easier to use). Dedicated newsies already use the for-pay newsgroup
services because those services carry more groups and are often hosted on
faster servers than the ones that are run by ISPs. The few free megabytes of
web space an ISP grants you doesn't go very far when you're building today's
multi-media laden web sites; besides, if you're serious about a web
presence, you're going to want to host your own server or use a hosting
company that will allow you to register your own domain name.

However, even as customers' use of the extra services has fallen, the cost
to the ISPs of providing them has increased - both in terms of money and
increased risk and liability. With energy costs through the roof, running
those servers is more expensive than it once was. In addition, if you don't
provide email services, you don't have to worry about law enforcement coming
in with a subpoena, demanding to see some customer's messages. Likewise, if
you don't run a web hosting service, you don't have to worry about some
customer putting something illegal on his web site that sits on your server.

As a mere carrier providing bandwidth, the law is clear that ISPs aren't
responsible for content. When they host services, it gets a little stickier.
In fact, one of the reasons that ISPs are giving for dropping Usenet is the
recent actions of the New York attorney general. He's been targeting Usenet
for disseminating child porn, which resulted in the major ISPs signing an
agreement to block such groups from their servers:

Since policing hundreds of newsgroups is an impossibility, some ISPs find it
easier and much more cost effective to stop providing the NNTP service
altogether. They argue that those customers who want legit newsgroups can
still get them, through the for-pay services.

Speaking of "the major ISPs," there's another way in which Internet service
providers are like gas stations: in decades past, there were local "mom and
pop" stations on every corner, and small local ISPs serving most areas. Now
the vast majority of gas stations are affiliated with the big oil companies,
and most of the small ISPs have been run out of business by the telecoms,
cable companies and big national providers.

This decrease in the amount of competition means many customers are more or
less locked in to a particular provider. In some geographic areas, you may
be lucky enough to have a few choices, but those choices are usually between
a handful of large providers such as Verizon, AT&T and Time Warner. This
creates a "triopoly" situation where those providers can do pretty much what
they want, regardless of customer desires, if they stick together.

We've already seen an example of that after Time Warner tested the waters
with tiered/metered Internet service. Soon after, AT&T started talking about
doing the same. Perhaps there is some hope in the fact that Verizon has a
history of having bucked trends before (they were the only major wireless
phone provider to refuse to join the other five in creating a U.S. cell
phone "411" directory service). At this time, Verizon's residential
broadband and FiOS accounts still include email services (9 accounts) and
web hosting (10 MB). And they still provide an NNTP server, although they no
longer carry the alt.* newsgroups.

Still, I think we can expect to see fewer and fewer services provided by
ISPs as government regulations tighten and their costs go up. With that
combined "double whammy," it makes business sense for them to stop offering
"free" services that only get them in trouble.


Ray Barkalow - First Rays Orchids -
Plants, Supplies. Books, Artwork, and lots of Free Info!

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