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Internet at a Crossroads



Harry Alford

By Harry C. Alford
NNPA Columnist

The communications network of the National Black Chamber of Commerce has evolved along with the Internet. When we first started back in the late 1980s, we would write and print out letters through a pinwheel printer. To print out 50 copies of a letter would take about an hour. Then, we would mail the 50 letters and wait a couple of days for them to reach our database.

Before long, we would discover the fax machine and that would save postage money and delivery time. Thus, we could print one letter and then fax it to as many fax lines as we had in our database. We would say “what did we do before we had a fax machine”. One staffer would stand by the fax machine and work it for hours.

Then one day came the email system led by AOL. This was indeed a game changer. We could communicate instantly with other people who had an AOL account. Soon everyone would have an AOL account and would transmit email via “dial up phone numbers” issued by AOL. You would dial the 800 number and someone on the other end would hook up a dial tone to connect you to the email address you were targeting.

Although the dial up could take 10 minutes or more you could transmit your message almost instantly and the receiver could respond to you in like fashion. This was truly like magic and took communications to a whole new level. Our constituency mushroomed as we could proselytize to the masses, even overseas. The NBCC federation started to grow exponentially.

The next breakthrough was having your own website. It was a billboard and a portfolio of your capabilities and features. Everybody who was in business would have a website. The first step was having an address, URL, and register it at one source (for the US), which was Network Solutions.

Network Solutions was a Black-owned 8a firm which meant it got the federal contract to assign URL’s on a direct and non-compete basis – set aside. To this day, I still can’t believe that. The most prized procurement in this new frontier and our federal government with a legacy of discrimination is going to sole source it to a brother. However, the brother was in the limelight and was revered as an entrepreneurial genius.

When things got into full swing he sold the company. Who in their right mind is going to sell a 24/7 diamond mine at the beginning of a demand boom. I believe people behind the scenes played a “charade” so that they could stir the contract to a politically wired firm with Network Solutions providing cover. Once things settled Network Solutions would “sell” it and get out of town. He actually got out of the country. How many billions of dollars were involved in this exercise and how many pennies on a dollar did he receive?

Soon the frontier opened up and various companies were licensed to issue URL’s. The most popular today is Go Daddy. The United States joined the rest of the world in the field of Internet. Europe and Asia were way ahead of us. They had “broadband,” which was an exponentially faster speed than dial up. As we approached year 2000, the United States was ranked 18 in broadband deployment. That was then but soon American ingenuity and a “free trade market” put us to serious work.

Within 10 years, America became the number one nation in broadband deployment and utilization. Our telecom companies willingly invested billions of dollars in making us #1. It is paying off! Our businesses are growing at record rates, especially Black-owned firms, and the investors are getting great returns on their risks. As Bill Gates once said “We are doing business at the speed of thought.” This great American made an understatement.

I can write a newsletter and send it to our federation that expands more than 50 nations. They, in turn, forward it to their database. Thus, within a few hours more than 300,000 business owners worldwide are reading our words. We could not have achieved this without the free market status of our telecom industry and the welcomed innovation allowed.

But now our federal government has decided to shackle our Internet industry with regulation and taxes. They want to harness something that is so beautiful as long as it is free. The Federal Communications Commission wants to straddle our Internet with regulation (a choke hold) and to tax it as much as its greedy ways are allowed. This isn’t a game changer, it is a game blocker. Cute terms like “net neutrality” are wicked to the core and we must pursue an alternative through our legislative branch. Congress must wake up and stand up for free enterprise and the security of America. They must back this administration off from this swift takeover.


Harry C. Alford is the co-founder, President/CEO of the National Black Chamber of Commerce®. Website: http://www.nationalbcc.org Email: halford@nationalbcc.org.



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