Arlan R. Levitan
Computer III—The Verdict
Good news for telecomputers comes from Washington, D.C. In April, the Federal Communications Commission ruled on two items that were of keen interest to online computer users. The FCC ruled against regulation of network-based information services and prohibited the Bell Operating Companies (a.k.a. the phone companies) from offering information services of their own.
This means that commercial information services and services such as Telenet's PC Pursuit will not be forced to pay access charges for interconnecting their private networks to the local phone system. It was widely felt that the access charges would have been passed on to the consumer in the form of higher hourly connect-time rates. The FCC ruled that, since there is currently no competition for local phone service, the BOCs would have an unfair competitive advantage over independent information providers. Apparently, the FCC noted the influx of mail from the telecomputing community. Many thanks to the readers of this column who wrote the commission to express their views on Computer III.
Exchange Shut Down
Even without new regulations from the FCC, PC Pursuit is still experiencing some growing pains. Pursuit recently had to axe 20 exchanges from its San Francisco service area because of higher-than-expected costs. If local phone companies in other cities raise their rates, service to more exchanges may have to be dropped. Some users have also been grumbling about the lack of 2400 bps service on Pursuit. Implementation of 2400 bps Pursuit links is still in beta test and over a year tardy. Rumor mongers claim that the holdup is throughput little better than the current 1200 bps due to network congestion and delays.
Going Once, Twice …
Reader's Digest has apparently decided to forego the videotex market and stick with the printed page. In April it sold off The Source to a group of venture capitalists. Although the author of this column could not contact any of the parties involved, they would have surely stated "By George! Some fellow at COMPUTE! predicted that this would happen last January!"
Daylight Savings Time
CompuServe subscribers may not have to wait until dinner is over to link up with the service at budget rates. As of late the service has been experimenting with lowering its daytime hourly connect charges. During April and May, prime time rates were made the same as standard evening and weekend charges ($6 per hour for 300 bps and $12.50 per hour for 1200 and 2400 bps). If the trial is successful, don't be surprised if the lower daytime rates become permanent.
Polly Want A Modem?
Last month's column briefly touched on the new wave of compact, battery-powered modems that are finding favor with laptop computer users. Novation, a long-time manufacturer of data communications equipment for the computer hobbyist, has just upped the ante in the compact modem market. Novation's new "Parrot 1200" is a 300/1200 bps unit that supports the Hayes "AT" command set and is roughly the size of an audio cassette. The Parrot sports four indicator lights and a speaker for monitoring the progress of calls, and it requires no batteries or AC power transformer. When the modem is activated, all required power is drawn directly from the RS-232 port. The most impressive feature of the Parrot 1200 is the suggested list price of $119, well under the $200–$260 price of its competitors.
So Sue Me …
Having grown tired of letting spreadsheet software firms hog the "Lawsuit of the Month" spotlight, communications firms struck back in April.
A U.S. District court ruled that Softklone Distributing's Mirror infringed on the copyright of a screen display of Crosstalk, a popular communications program for the IBM PC and compatible computers. The hot issue was one screen of Mirror, which was virtually identical to Crosstalk's primary status screen display. At best, the court's ruling was a modest victory for Crosstalk distributor DCA, who had sought a more extensive "look and feel" infringement ruling. Softklone responded by immediately shipping a new version of Mirror in which the structure, capitalization of words, and highlighting of the screen in question had been modified.
No sooner had Mirror vs. Crosstalk been put to bed than another U.S. District Court ruled that US Robotics and Hayes Microcomputer Products will duke it out in the courts. The court refused to dismiss antitrust charges brought by USR against Hayes, who had asked that the suit be tossed on the grounds of improper filing and bogus claims. The US Robotics suit charges Hayes and Business Computer (Bizcomp) with attempting to monopolize the personal computer modem market. It's likely that the dust won't begin to settle until the summer of 1988, at which time the ghost of Herman Hollerith will likely appear and sue the computer industry at large for appropriating the "look and feel" of the ASCII character set.