At GSP-09, Bob Metcalfe talks about the Enernet. video

I have a Carterfone modem in my basement that wants to be a traveling exhibit for the dawn of the internet. I searched the web hoping to find some video that would illustrate the Carterfone experience as opposed to the acoustic couplers that predated them. I found this sweet Bob Medcalf video instead.

The Carterfone case is mentioned only in passing as are many dozens of other lessons from the internet era that might better inform our approach to future energy. Bob's reflections ring true for me and might change my own attitudes with respect to sustainability at least to where innovation can be expected to contribute solutins.


Demonopolization. Until 1968 you were not allowed to connect anything to the telephone network that was not made by AT&T-- actually, a subsidiary of AT&T called Western Electric. It was illegal to connect things. Answering machines, cell phones, wireless home phone. You couldn't do that unless it was made by Western Electric.

Modems, for example. Western Electric was making these very expensive kluge 1,200 baud modems and stuff, and you weren't allowed to improve on them because the argument went-- First of all, the AT&T network was built by ratepayers and therefore, it would be unfair for people to leverage off that investment by connecting their own stuff to it.

But the big argument was safety. It would be unsafe to connect these fly by night equipments to the telephone network. In '68 the Federal Communications Commission found in the Carterfone decision that that was probably a bad idea, and so you should be allowed to connect things like modems to the network, making the Internet possible.

So demonopolization. The Justice Department of the United States went after IBM for decades for anti-competitive behavior, and that created opportunities for companies like Intel and Microsoft and Cisco to come up. And had there not been antitrust activity, we might still have an all IBM world, which would not be good. We can thank the government for that.

The federal government was also a lead customer in the Internet. They bought the first packet switches, and I showed you one earlier. And by buying them, and then the Defense Communications Agency came in and bought a bunch more, and it primed the pump for packet switching and what eventually became the Internet.