The FCC immediately determines that the lack of interoperability among the online systems harms consumers and orders that each company submit a technical framework by January 1994 under which all online companies will unify to one shared technology in the near future. The precedent for this are the technical standards that the FCC has been setting for decades for AM and FM, and for television. The online services threaten legal action again, and again Congress passes new legislation authorizing the FCC to do as it wishes. The online companies hustle to submit a technical framework. Microsoft wants in on the game, so it persuades the FCC to extend the framework deadline to July 1995. …
In late 1993, AOL and Delphi become the first online services to offer the Internet. The FCC orders both to drop the feature until the FCC’s labs approve it.
“We can’t have the online industry pushing out beta software on unsuspecting customers willy-nilly. Such software could compromise the users’ computers, interfere with other users’ computers, or crash the whole online world,” the FCC chairman says. …
In September 1996, Microsoft, whose biggest individual stockholders are Bill Gates, Paul Allen, and Steve Ballmer, who are raising millions for the Clinton-Gore re-election campaign, wins the FCC’s online design shootout.
Microsoft calls its online-unifier “Bob.”
“This award is made purely on the technical merits,” the FCC chairman remarks.
The FCC is particularly enamored of the “back door” that Microsoft has built into Bob, making it easier for police to monitor communications in real time. The commission also applauds Microsoft’s forward thinking because it has incorporated a virtual “V-chip” in Bob. The censoring software is analogous to the V-chip the FCC wants TV manufacturers to build into their sets to block violent and mature TV programming from being viewed by children.
The regulators also love Bob because it has created more “Channels” for police, fire, libraries, city councils, legislatures, courts, and public service messages than the other proposed systems. Bob testers complain that these channels leave little space for the data, information, and communications they expect to find on an online system. One compares Bob to a government designed version of the Yellow Pages, only duller. Another pines for the Wild West days of the unregulated online world when you didn’t have to pay virtual “parking” to your local municipality before you went shopping inside the online mall.
God, I love Jack Shafer.