Markey plans bill to protect privacy
Charging that there are "systematic violations of privacy every day," U.S. Rep. Edward J. Markey told members of the Information Industry Association last week that he will soon introduce legislation to alleviate threats to consumer privacy brought on by the telecommunications revolution.
Speaking at the group's 25th anniversary convention in Washington, the Massachusetts Democrat said he wants to ensure that citizens are given:
* The knowledge that personal information about them is being collected.
* Notice when any data that's been collected is going to be sold.
* The right to say "no" to dissemination of the information.
Mr. Markey, chairman of the House Commerce subcommittee on telecommunications and finance, also warned that the nation could wind up divided into the information "haves" and "have nots."
"It is my goal that universal service must be preserved," he said, citing earlier policies that guaranteed basic telephone service at affordable rates.
In the future, he said, that concept must be expanded to encompass additional electronic information services as they become available.
Mr. Markey also took some thinly veiled digs at the proposed merger of Bell Atlantic Corp. and Tele-Communications Inc., beginning with the sly question, "Do we have any monopolists in this room?"
From a technological perspective, he said, the merger offers little different from the $2.5 billion investment by U S West in Time Warner Entertainment Co.
And he questioned whether better service to consumers will result from the current rounds of "digital Darwinism."
"Real innovation springs from competition in the marketplace," Mr. Markey declared, not from cooperation among communications giants.
Prodigy interface will be overhauled
Prodigy, the nation's largest on-line service, will soon be getting a face lift.
Ross S. Glatzer, president and chief executive officer of the Prodigy Service Co., told IIA members that the user interface is being reworked to reduce clutter; he offered a peek at the new format, with a column of option buttons down the side of each menu screen.
The idea, Mr. Glatzer said, is to increase the sense of a wide range of choices.
In a new Microsoft Windows version of the software, users will be able to call up photographs and sound bytes.
Prodigy's agreements with large news organizations -- among them Times Mirror Co., owner of The Sun -- will enable the service to create "interactive neighborhoods" around the country, Mr. Glatzer said.
He cited the great volume of detailed local news that newspapers are now unable to print for lack of space. All of that can be provided easily on-line, he said, along with the ability to "talk back" to local columnists, for example.
Some other comments:
* The on-line industry could have 20 million subscribers by 1998 -- half through personal computers, 7 million through TVs, and 3 million through "personal digital assistants."
* Schools are a marketing battleground; 300,000 of Prodigy's 2 million enrolled members are children.
* In five years, "we may not be able to recognize the names" of today's major participants in the on-line industry.
* Prodigy will soon make available its electronic-mail link to the Internet, with connections to other Internet services to come later.
Funding helps Internet to offer free service
There's still no such thing as a free lunch, but free Internet service -- except for the cost of the phone call -- is just around the corner.
The Washington-based International Internet Association announced last week that as of next Monday it will provide a free account on the global network of networks to any computer user who calls with a modem to its main system in Washington.
Max Robbins, the association's executive director, was walking on air after Friday's announcement.
"This is the realization of a dream for me, and I'm loving it," Mr. Robbins said.
The organization's avowed purpose is to "promote the free flow of information and ideas." It's able to make the offer through funding from several telecommunications companies in the Northeast, as well as the time of numerous volunteers, many of whom worked to build the Internet itself, he said.
Users can arrange to receive an identification number on the new system by faxing a request with name, address and phone numbers to (202) 387-5446 or by calling (202) 387-5445. Users will be given the option of calling the computer on an 800 number, but they'll have to charge the fees of 20 cents a minute on a credit card.
"We're gonna be swamped. We know that. We don't care," Mr. Robbins exulted.
He vowed to have 1,000 dial-in lines available in two weeks, and a total of 5,000 by two weeks after that.
"We think that people have barely scratched the surface of what the Internet means," Mr. Robbins said.
But if his new system takes off as planned, that soon will be changing.