You're all familiar with Moore's Law, which postulates that the computing power of a microprocessor will double every 18 months. This exponential has brought us cheaper, faster computers at an amazing pace. Today, you can buy a 200-MHz PC for around $1,000, which cost twice as much a mere 12 months ago.
But in the age of the Internet, that PC horsepower is only half of the equation. To fully exploit this era of universal connectivity, you also need faster and cheaper online access.
The problem is that this space is being driven not by Moore's Law, but by a lesser-known theorem--one that I call "Moron's Law." And who is behind Moron's Law? The Internet access providers, of course, led by the telcos.
AT&T showed its true colors by announcing this week that it's doing away with flat access fees. For $19.95 a month, users will get 150 hours of access; beyond that every hour will cost an additional 99 cents. WebTV Networks joined the fray by increasing its monthly fee from $19.95 to $24.95, but only if you were unlucky enough to have gone with their latest and greatest version, WebTV Plus.
Moron's Law is the antithesis of Moore's Law. It dictates that the technology will intentionally be developed at a snail's pace, but that the cost of that technology will continue to increase. The telco motto seems to be: Raise the price, not the bandwidth.
An illuminating piece in Forbes ASAP puts things in the right perspective:
"The first microprocessor, the Intel 4004, could crunch about 400 instructions per second when it debuted (in a calculator made by Busicom) in 1971. The fabled IBM Personal Computer of 1981 could zip through 330,000 instructions per second. Today's run-of-the-mill $1,500 PC can handle 200 million instructions per second. Contrast that to the telcos. The telegraph wire that transported Samuel F.B. Morse's first message--"What hath God wrought?"--did so at 4 bits per second. It's now 160 years later and the average PC user is lucky if his phone line can support 28,800 bits per second. That's a seven thousandfold increase in bandwidth in 160 years."
These telcos led by AT&T are the same people who kept promising high-speed ISDN lines to the home beginning in the early '80s but just could not deliver on the promise. Little wonder that ISDN came to stand for "I Still Don't Need It." Of course, now they are promising even faster ADSL connections and the likes, but the fact is that most of us are still saddled with speeds around 28.8 kbps.
And with this week's rate hike, AT&T would seem to be more content on gouging the small percentage of people connecting to the Web instead of lowering the cost to entry so that more will sign on with it for access.
Given their history, you can sort of understand the telcos' moronic ways,but what of WebTV? You would think the folks at this pioneering company would do everything possible to entice more consumers to their service.
Particularly baffling is the fact that Bill Gates now owns WebTV, the man who has perfected the art of exploiting Moore's Law. Ever wonder why your computer never seems to have enough memory, disk space, or processing power? It's because Microsoft keeps making bigger--more like bloated--applications. Word, Excel, and Explorer now guzzle up memory and disk space, driving people who used older word processors and spreadsheets batty. And, by the way, this was not a turn-of-the-century phenomenon--this was only a decade ago.
One can understand Gates wanting his return on the $425 million investment in WebTV, but this fee increase flies in the face of his desire to get more people cheaper and faster bandwidth.
These moves by AT&T and WebTV remind me of a story in the Sunday Times of London two years ago. According to that report, a Brussels borough had voted to tax computers in the workplace. Every computer user would have to pay an annual levy of 22 pounds and display a sticker as proof of payment. Inspectors would be deployed to catch and fine the offending parties.
The reason, you ask? "Computers take away people's jobs...It is quite reasonable to tax them," an official was quoted as saying.
The access providers, in all their moronic glory, probably would find this quite fitting.
Jai Singh is the editor of NEWS.COM.