Online Timeline

January 1996 - April 1996


Ignore Logic, 1996 by Les Levine
Image courtesy of the artist




JANUARY 1996

1/6/96 The Zapitas issued an edict declaring they would give up fighting and become a grass-roots organization in response to an online poll asking the Mexican people what they wanted the rebels to do. 1.5 million people responded by e-mail.

1/9/96 The Los Angeles-based Simon Wiesenthal Center sent--and publicized--a letter to Internet service providers and universites urging them to withdraw computer support-services for Web sites that "promote racism, anti-Semitism, mayhem and violence." The 425,000-member, Jewish organization's plea to ban the on-line messages of hate groups was denounced by free expression groups, such as the Electronic Frontier Foundation, which noted that the First Amendment was designed expressly to protect unpopular speach.

2/1/96 The Gay & Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation (GLAAD) reported the proliferation of web sites devoted to anti-gay rhetoric, but categorically stated its opposition to "censorship in any form."

1/14/96 Financier-philanthropist George Soro announced plans to finance Internet development in Russia. He will spend $1.5 million to link hostpitals, museums, schools and scientific institutes to the Internet. This sum is in addition to $800 million Soros' International Science Foundation has invested in telecommunications development in Russia.

1/29/96 The future of Apple Computer Inc. appears uncertain, as the beleagured company froze research spending, got its debt rating downgraded by Standard & Poor, and saw its stock prices plummet to a 52 week low ($29.12). 2/1/96 A widely reported takeover by Sun Microsystems looks less certain than it recently did amid reports--later proved correct--that Apple chief Michael Spindler will be replaced with National Semiconductor head Gilbert Amelio. 2/19/96 Macintosh announced that it would license its operating system to Motorola and allow Motorola to sell sublicenses to the program.

1/29/96 The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit upheld the Tennessee obscenity conviction of Robert and Carleen Thomas, a California couple who operated an adult BBS service. The couple was convicted in 1994 by a Memphis jury after a postal inspector downloaded images from their California bulletin board. The landmark ruling allows the so-called community standards of the most conservative communities to determine the on-line distribution of sexually oriented materials nationwide.

1/30/96 Media mogul Rupert Murdoch joined the all-news, cable television sweepstakes to end CNN's monopoly on 24-hour newscasting. (The other players are NBC/Microsoft and Capital Cities/ABC/Disney.) Few analysts believe there's a market for four all-news channels; most see the move to challenge CNN as an attempt by the networks to position themselves to provide on-line news programming in the future.


FEBRUARY 1996

2/1/96 A consortium of financial and electronic businesses led by Mastercard International and Visa International announced plans for an industry-standard technology for making secure electronic payments. The new technical standard brings together previous rivals Microsoft and Netscape Communications and deters the possibility of competing standards.

2/1/96 Congress rewrote US communications laws today when both houses passed a long-contested bill transforming many facets of the television and telecommunications industries. (President Clinton is set to sign it.) The bill catalyzes competition in cable and phone markets (rates may fall in large markets, rise in small ones) and consolidation in radio- and television station ownership. Its restrictions include the incorporation of the not-yet-perfected "V chip" to screen out television sex and violence, and the banning of pornography and the transmission of "indecent" sexual material over computer networks. Civil liberties group vowed to take the latter to court. The bill was held up by Senate Republican leader Bob Dole who criticized the setting aside of airwaves estimated to be worth $70 billion for television broadcasters offering new digital services. A compromise: According to Dole, the FCC will take no action on the matter until Congress revisits the issue in a separate bill.

2/1/96 Harper's Magazine became the first publication to pay writers royalties for on-line and CD-ROM publication of already-published articles. The split between the HM Foundation and writers will be 50-50.

2/2/96 Three, 13-year-old boys from the Syracuse area have been charged with plotting to set off a homemade bomb at their junior high. They got their bomb-building information on the Internet. According to published reports, the case was the subject of hot debate on local talk-radio shows, with most callers blaming the parents.

2/3/96 China issued regulations governing Internet use today that centralize the flow of information in and out of the country. Government ministries will: authorize the programming of Internet nodes; designate channels for computer networks making international connections; and supervise the content of material transmitted on-line. Materials that authorities believe threaten public order, or are obscene or pornographic, are prohibited.

2/7/96 Rupert Murdoch's News Corporation laid off nearly half of the 515 employees of its on-line service. Such a move contributes to the momentum away from investment in internet service providers such as Genie and Delphi in favor of communications-industry ventures on the Internet's World Wide Web.

2/8/96 President Clinton signed the Telecommunications Reform Bill, while some of those opposed to its restrictions on expression aka the Communications Decency Act--including Rep. Jerrold Nadler (D-NY), who called it "the cyberspace equivalent of book burning"--darkened numerous Internet sites in protest. An ACLU-led coalition of free-speech organizations filed suit in Federal Court to block enforcement of the law.

2/9 Sen. Patrick J. Leahy (D-Vt.) introduced a bill to repeal the Communications Decency Act observing that "Internet users will have to limit all language used and topics discussed to that appropriate for kindergartners, just in case a minor clicks onto the discussion....Certainly on-line discussions of safe sex practices, of birth control methods, and of AIDS prevention methods will be suspect."

2/12/96 Netscape Communications and news organizations including Reuters, ESPN and the Los Angeles Times announced an Internet news network that will bring a personalized, automatically updated, on-line "newspaper" to computer-users' screensavers. The news service will be commercially sponspred and is scheduled for an April start-up.

2/15/96 Judge Ronald L. Buckwalter of Federal District Court in Philadelphia temporarily blocked enforcement of the Communications Decency Act, ruling that the term "indecent" was unconstitutionally vague and undefined in the bill. But his complex ruling also upheld other parts of the law, including one that criminalizes the discussion of some aspects of arbotion on on-line services and on the Net, and another that makes it a felony to use computer networks to display material accessible to minors, which depicts or describes "in terms patently offensive as measured by contemporary community standards sexual or excretory activities or organs." Nor does the ruling affect current laws against displaying obscenity--a concept that has been defined by the Supreme Court--on the Internet. A three-judge panel will now review the constitutionality of the Decency Act; subsequent appeals will be put on a fast track to the US Supreme Court.

2/21/96 Sears, Roebuck & Co. announced that its 50% stake in Prodigy is up for sale. (IBM, its partner, declined to comment on its plans.) The move came just a day after H & R Block announced it would spin off Compuserve, its on-line service, suggesting a retreat in the on-line industry following the passage of the Telecommunications Reform Bill.

2/27/96 US West Communications--one of the so-called Baby Bells--acquired Continental Cablevision, the nation's third-largest cable operator. The shake-up in Internet service provision gained momentum with the announcement of AT&T's plan to provide its customers with 5 hours per month of free Internet access and low-cost, unlimited use plans. Motorola and Sun Microsystems also announced a collaboration to build high-speed Internet access systems for home use.

2/29/96 At a White House confab, entertainment industry leaders promised President Clinton a voluntary television ratings system by next January. Microsoft endorsed a similar ratings system for the World Wide Web developed by the Recreational Software Advisory Council and announced today. Microsoft's endorsement allied it with Internet filtering software makers such as Cyber Patrol and Surf Watch; the giant corporation also said it would build a filtering system into the next version of its web browser, Internet Explorer.

2/96 The first all-French-language search engine, Lokace (http://www.iplus.fr/lokace), went on-line to facilitate the retrieval of information from French-language sites. The French Academy is also working on a French vocabulary for Internet users to ensure the Net's usefulness for non-Anglophones.

2/96 A decade of politicized discussion preceded a Japanese-government-advisory-panel's report recommending that Nippon Telegraph & Telephone company be split into a long-distance carrier and two local carriers. In mid-March, NT&T urged the government to either quickly reach a decision or delay one for five years, given technological ferment within the telecommunications industry.


MARCH 1996

3/6/96 Bertelsmann, Canal Plus, Havas and BSkyB formed a European consortium for digital-television development. 3/8/96 Compagnie Luxembourgeoise de Telediffusion announced a competing joint venture with partners including the Kirch group, after accusing Havas of "treachery" in aligning itself with Bertelsmann.

3/12/96 A day after announcing a licensing agreement to adopt Netscape's Navigator browser for its customers, America Online did an about face, adopting Microsoft's Internet Explorer for its web browser. AOL's quid pro quo was the integration of its access software into future versions of Windows 95.

3/12/96 The Semiconductor Industry Assocation showed a drastic slowdown in semiconductor orders; only $90 worth of chips were ordered for every $100 shipped in the quarter ending 2/29/96. A drop in prices contributed to the decline, but some observers interpreted the decline as proof that global demand for computers and semiconductors is slowing.

3/15/96 Spring Street Brewery became the first company to trade its stock on its web-site bulletin board. But the New York brewery's experiment was shot down by Security and Exchange Commision regulators who demanded, on 3/20/96, that the microbrewery suspend the trading system until the SEC could determine whether the trading m.o. Is in violation of the 1934 Securities and Exchange Act.

3/21/96 The first live, internet connection in a courtroom was used in Philadelphia today as hearings began in a suit challenging the constitutionality of the Communications Decency Act. Slow access times prevented the judges from seeing the Louvre or Playboy web sites, but the Penthouse site was accessed and blocked by the SurfWatch software being demonstrated.

3/27/96 Sony Corporation officials announced the firm's plan to develop a new software operating system. The audacious move to compete with Apple, Microsoft, and IBM follows on the heels of Sony's more conservative, fall '96 entry into the personal computer market, with help from Intel and operating systems from Microsoft.

3/28/96 The Center for Media Education released a six-month study of web sites and on-line services directed at children. The study found "manipulative, deceptive, and exploitive" marketing techniques by toy, cereal and candy-makers and urged Federal regulations on marketing in cyberspeace comparable to those governing advertising to children on television.


APRIL 1996

4/2/96 The Corbis Corporation, owned by Bill Gates, announced the acquisition of electronic rights to 2500 photographs by Ansel Adams. The deal complements the Microsoft mogul's acquisition of the Bettmann Archive of historical photos last fall and licensing agreements with the National Gallery of London, the Hermitage Museum (St. Petersburg) and the Kimbell Museum (Fort Worth.)

4/3/96 The first cyber-Seder commenced at 4 am this morning, in order to reach Passover celebrants in Australia. Temple Emanu-El of New York transmitted the 36-hour-long reading of the Haggadah from its multi-media center.

4/3/96 Federal agents raided a remote cabin in Montana and seized Theodore Kaczynski, a recluse suspected of being the Unabomber. The FBI acted on a tip from the alleged Unabomber's brother.

4/8/96 Florida Chamber of Commerce volunteers taped fax and e-mail comments protesting the state's ruling that commercial customers of Internet services may be taxed.

4/8/96 The Nynex Corporation and the Tribune Company each announced investments in electronic guides to the Web. The former acquired 5% of Infoseek for several million dollars; the latter paid $7 million for an 8% stake in Infoseek. 4/12/96 Yahoo Inc., another search engine, debuted on Wall Street with an offering prices of $13 and ended the day at $33, placing it third on the all-time list for opening-day increases.

4/11/96 Time Warner announced that it would charge users a monthly fee for a new personalized news delivery system on the Web. The Personal Pathfinder service will provide original content and news packaged according to individual users' interests.

4/14/96 Timothy Leary, suffering from terminal cancer, announced that he soon plans to take a fatal ýcocktailţ before a video camera linked to his web-site, which will transmit images of his suicide across the Internet.

4/16/96 A San Francisco Federal District Court Judge ruled that software code is speech protected by the First Amendment. The Judge refused the government's request to dismiss mathematician Daniel Bernstein's suit accusing it of illegally preventing him from publishing and exporting a computer program. The ruling is one of the first legal challenges of government policy restricting the export of encryption software.

4/21/96 The Bell Atlantic and Nynex Corporations agreed to merge, creating the second-largest phone company in the U.S. after AT&T. The new company--to be called Bell Atlantic and to be based in New York--will dominate telecommunications on the East Coast from Maine to Virginia.

4/24/96 Computer hacker Kevin Mitnick, arrested last year in a celebrated manhunt attended by a New York Times reporter, reached a plea bargain admitting his theft of stolen cellular phone devices and his violation of probation resulting from a previous arrest. He is likely, however, to face an array of serious Federal and (California) state charges for his activities.


9/95 - 12/95 5/96 - 8/96 9/96 - 12/96


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