The Internet keeps growing more essential. People keep in touch by e-mail, read websites for news and pleasure, and shop or pay bills online. Many make their phone calls over the Net.
As high-speed lines proliferate, users will do even more, such as control gadgets and home appliances, and watch movies and TV shows. The Internet is becoming everyone's eyes and ears on the world.
That's why the issue of who controls the pipeline that delivers Internet service is so important. Clearly, when consumers are free to choose among many competitors, prices drop and quality rises.
The decision by the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) earlier this month to allow phone companies the right to deny other Internet service providers (ISPs) such as AOL and Earthlink the use of their phone lines did, in a way, boost competition. An earlier Supreme Court decision had granted cable TV companies that right. The FCC ruling leveled the playing field for the two industries, which together control more than 90 percent of the residential broadband, or high-speed Internet, market.
Ma Bell may have been a reliable provider of phone service, but it wasn't much of an innovator. Only after deregulation did new technologies and new features emerge, and long-distance prices tumble. A cable and phone company duopoly on Internet service isn't likely to be much better. Some of their low-price offers are no better than short-term bait-and-switch deals. And both cable and phone companies want to "bundle" their Internet service with phone calls and TV service, forcing the Internet-only customer to pay a premium.