Telecommunications: Technological and Regulatory Factors Affecting Consumer Choice of Internet Providers
GENERAL ACCOUNTING OFFICE WASHINGTON DC
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Often described as a network of networks that forms a worldwide information infrastructure, the Internet is expected to become a primary medium for communications, commerce, education, and entertainment in the 21st century. As the Internet becomes a growing force in daily life, the degree of consumer choice among Internet providers has emerged as a key public policy issue. For an American consumer today gaining access to the Internet usually involves obtaining service from two types of companies. The first is a provider of physical transport-a telephone, cable television, or wireless communications company-that supplies a physical connection over which data are transmitted from the consumers home computer to the providers facilities. Users typically already have such a connection for phone or cable TV services. The second type of company is an Internet service provider e.g., America Online, Earthlink, ExciteHome that provides a pathway or on-ramp from a transport providers facilities to the Internet. Although the majority of Americans currently access the Internet over a telephone line and subscribe separately to an Internet service provider, integrated Internet services offered by cable companies are becoming increasingly prevalent, and various wireless methods of Internet transport are also expected to become popular in the next few years.
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