The History of Communications and its Implications for the Internet

160 Pages Posted: 30 Aug 2000

See all articles by Andrew Odlyzko

Andrew Odlyzko

University of Minnesota - Twin Cities - School of Mathematics and Digital Technology Center

Abstract

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.

JEL Classification: M19

Suggested Citation

Odlyzko, Andrew, The History of Communications and its Implications for the Internet. Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=235284 or http://dx.doi.org/10.2139/ssrn.235284

Andrew Odlyzko (Contact Author)

University of Minnesota - Twin Cities - School of Mathematics and Digital Technology Center ( email )

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