Revenge of the Bellheads: How the Netheads Lost Control of the Internet

27 Pages Posted: 12 Nov 2001

See all articles by Rob Frieden

Rob Frieden

Pennsylvania State University - College of Communications

Date Written: October 2001


Throughout their short, but volatile lives, Internet Service Providers ("ISPs") have avoided having to satisfy traditional telecommunication regulatory requirements. ISPs do not operate as common carriers and do not have to pay access charges and make contributions to universal service funding. Having sponsored development of the Internet, many governments consider regulation anathema, despite the fact that ISPs no longer need incubation and many offer some services functionally equivalent to what regulated telephone companies provide.

A dichotomy in regulatory treatment exists between ISPs and telecommunication carriers. A large difference in corporate cultures supports this dichotomy. Telephone company executives ("Bellheads") may resent regulation, but they accept their fate and work creatively to exploit anomalies and opportunities to secure a regulation-conferred competitive advantage. Most ISP executives ("Netheads") appear to embrace a libertarian attitude, strongly opposing any government involvement.

Despite the clash of cultures, the telecommunications and Internet worlds have merged. Such convergence jeopardizes the ability of Netheads to avoid some degree of regulation, particularly when they offer services functionally equivalent to what their Bellhead counterparts offer.

This paper will assess the regulatory consequences when telecommunication and Internet services converge in the marketplace and in terms of operating technologies. The paper identifies commercial developments in the Internet to support the view that the Internet has become more hierarchical and more like telecommunication networks. The paper concludes that telecommunication carriers will display superior skill in working the regulatory process to their advantage. The paper suggests that Bellheads will outmaneuver Netheads particularly when the revenue siphoning effect of Internet-mediated services offsets the revenues generated from ISP leases of telecommunication transmission capacity.

JEL Classification: L56, L96, K21, K23

Suggested Citation

Frieden, Rob, Revenge of the Bellheads: How the Netheads Lost Control of the Internet (October 2001). Available at SSRN: or

Rob Frieden (Contact Author)

Pennsylvania State University - College of Communications ( email )

102 Carnegie Building
University Park, PA 16802
United States
814-863-7996 (Phone)
814-863-8161 (Fax)


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