I’d Like to Exchange a Word with You

by Dave Michels

The Bell System network was an American marvel of technology, its “universal service” mantra aspired for a phone in every home; regardless of social class. It connected every home and business in the country, comparable in scope to the nation’s highway and road system, but with instantaneous communications. It made instant communication a reality on a scale never before accomplished, very likely inconceivable to many.

The Bell system belonged to a corporation, centrally designed per a master plan. The entire solution, including the switches, endpoints, wiring, and protocols were vertically integrated and designed in one of the most famous (and privately owned) laboratories in the world: Bell Labs. The network’s hardware was predominately produced to exact specifications by Bell’s manufacturing arm, Western Electric.

Today the Internet holds the title of the most popular and ubiquitous public network. It is not owned (or regulated) by a private corporation. It is completely decentralized in ownership, design, and management. Nor are the hardware and services centrally managed, but rather a result of innovative approaches to communications – email, presence, Napster, Bit-Torrent, iPhones, even Netflix streaming came from a free market of ingenuity rather than a central plan. The web and email are largely completely platform independent. Mac, PC, HP, IBM – it just doesn’t matter; interaction, shopping, and more take place regardless of computer brand (remote or local), device type, or location. The Internet has transformed communications globally, affecting every industry and life as we knew it.

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