Should the FCC ban Async and Bisync?

Today is February 17th, which has become the equivalent of Y2K in the television broadcast industry.   Today was the original deadline set by the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) to discontinue analog broadcast television signals throughout the US.  Congress recently passed the Digital TV Delay law which has extended the deadline to June 12th to allow consumers more time to complete the transition.  While June 12th has become the new “drop dead” date, Congress specified that broadcasters are no longer obligated to continue analog transmissions during this extension period.  However, 1100 of the nation’s 1800 TV networks will continue their legacy transmissions to maximize advertising distribution.  The FCC’s ability to phase out older technology in favor of more modernized, cost effective protocols begs a question in my mind.  If the FCC can apply such a policy to TV broadcasts, should we consider enacting similar legislation for outdated B2B communications protocols such as async, bisync and X.25?

Y2K for the Television of the Industry

The official motivation for the US switching to digital TV is to free up wireless broadcast spectrum which is in high demand by other user groups.  Rather than using the spectrum for analog TV broadcasts, the frequencies could be allocated to municipal fire, police and emergency rescue departments to support public safety efforts.  Of course, the upgrade to newer technology has numerous benefits for consumers and broadcasters as well such as improved picture quality and a wider variety of programming options.

After the cutover, older televisions, which do not have a digital receiver and are not connected to a cable or satellite service provider, will not be able to receive the new transmissions.  Consumers with older TVs will need to follow one of three courses of action to watch TV:

  1. Purchase a digital converter box, subsidized by the US government
  2. Upgrade to a newer model television
  3. Subscribe to a cable or satellite service

The February deadline was extended to June due to a much higher than anticipated population of non-digital TV users.  The US government originally estimated that only 15% of households received analog signals TV via free antennas.  However, actual utilization of the analog broadcasts appears to be closer to 35% due to the fact that many homes have extra TVs not connected to cable or satellite TV networks.

Legacy B2B Communications Protocols

I think most government officials were surprised to learn of such a high population of legacy TV technology still in use in 2009.  I suspect a similar level of disbelief would be experienced if a study of the use of legacy communications in the B2B integration sector were conducted.  One would assume with all of the e-commerce technology businesses have today such as AS2, FTP and Web Forms that legacy technology such as async, bisync and X.25 have become virtually extinct.  Unfortunately, this is not the case. 

IBM bisync publication

Source: www.serengeti.com

For those of you not familiar with these legacy communications protocols, which is by no means something to be embarrassed about, here is a brief introduction.

  • Async - is a communications protocol in which a start and stop signal are used to encapsulate individual characters and words.  Async was originally developed for use with teletypwriters in the early 20th century.  Asynchronous signalling was very popular for dial-up modem access to time sharing computers and bulletin board systems during the 1970s, 80s and 90s.  Here is a link to the wikipedia page on async.

  • Bisync - is an acronym for the "Binary Synchronous Communication" protocol intorduced by IBM in the 1960s.  The bisync protocol was the most popular file transfer protocol during the 1970s and 1980s.  EDI applications were a primary user of bisync as were ATM machines, cash registers and radar systems.  For more history on bisync read this great article on the Serengeti web site.

  • X.25 - is a Wide Area Network (WAN) protocolused with leased lines, ISDN connections and traditional telephone lines.  X.25 was especially popular in the 1980s within the financial services industry to connect ATMs to banking networks.  Here is a link to the wikipedia page on X.25.

I have never seen an official report on the use of legacy communications in B2B integration.  However, I am confident there are over 10,000 companies are still using legacy dial-up connections such as async, bisync and X.25 throughout the US.  What are the implications of the business world’s continued dependency on these ancient networking standards?  Can commercial entities effectively phase out these technologies on their own or will government regulation be required?  More thoughts in my next post…