The History of Communications and Its Implications for the Internet
The Internet is the latest in a long succession of communication technologies. The goal of this work is to draw lessons from the evolution of all these services. Little attention is paid to technology as such, since that has changed radically many times. Instead, the stress is on the steady growth in volume of communication, the evolution in the type of traffic sent, the qualitative change this growth produces in how people treat communication, and the evolution of pricing. The focus is on the user, and in particular on how quality and price differentiation have been used by service providers to influence consumer behavior, and how consumers have reacted. There are repeating patterns in the histories of communication technologies, including ordinary mail, the telegraph, the telephone, and the Internet. In particular, the typical story for each service is that quality rises, prices decrease, and usage increases to produce increased total revenues. At the same time, prices become simpler. The historical analogies of this paper suggest that the Internet will evolve in a similar way, towards simplicity. The schemes that aim to provide differentiated service levels and sophisticated pricing schemes are unlikely to be widely adopted. Price and quality differentiation are valuable tools that can provide higher revenues and increase utilization efficiency of a network, and thus in general increase social welfare. Such measures, most noticeable in airline pricing, are spreading to many services and products, especially high-tech ones. However, it appears that as communication services become less expensive and are used more fre-quently, those arguments lose out to customers? desire for simplicity.
history, communications, internet