Image: Your Little Planet
We all enjoy the connectivity the Internet provides us today with instant messaging, email, hyperlinking, websites and news. It was built by the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) contracting with universities and research centers to build a powerful internetworking protocol and network for the Department of Defense beginning in 1969. The network evolved with more research centers and government organizations using the system for communication and joint projects. By the mid 1990s the Internet was opened to the public primarily for email, though soon websites and messaging systems were established. Commercial common carriers were offered government contracts to provide more communication network support and services. In 1993 the Internet provided 1 % of all two way communications, by 2000 51 % of all communications were over the Internet, then growth exploded to 97 % of all telecommunications information in 2007.
Built by taxpayer money by DARPA for military communications, next universities and research centers, then open to the public and commercial enterprises. So, why do companies like AT & T, Verizon, and Comcast think they should control how Internet is offered to our people? We paid for it, as it evolved the Internet was envisioned as a wonderful new way to engage citizens in the political process and to level the playing field for new companies.
We certainly, have seen how innovation with a plethora of new services has emerged in the last 20 years, yet now a few giants run the content side: Google, Facebook, Netflix, Disney and the network side run by AT &T, Verizon, and Comcast. As the content companies merge with networking companies we have huge companies deciding how to make more money from a network entity that is actually a public trust built by taxpayer money.
One way we see inequality growing is access to the Internet for many in poor, or rural regions of the country is limited in speed and services. Without Internet speedy Internet access or innovative services for universities, hospitals, and companies in these regions it is difficult for the working class to gain the skills to get a better job, or companies to compete with their high speed competitors. Investment is declining in some regions of the Midwest and South due to poor Internet infrastructure which means fewer jobs for people living in the area.
The Internet is really a Common Good. It is a utility, not a platform for companies to make profits and not take responsibility for equity in access, speed and content which was the original purpose in designing the Internet as a peer to peer protocol rather than hierarchical.
The present GOP administration installed a company lobbyist as chair of the FCC who immediately decided that the network neutrality doctrine of the Obama administration should be overturned, giving control to for profit entities to charge whatever they wanted for speedy access or content. It is as if we turned the interstate system of freeways over to GM, so GM could give special lanes to GM cars and the others would have to go in slower lanes.
No, we don’t see the Common Good being protected by a for profit doctrine, it just can’t do the job. Recently, when firefighters in the California Mendocino fire went over their mobile data plan limit, Verizon throttled their data transmission to 1/200 of the speed. After the outrage over such predatory practices Verizon relented and will now offer all western state first responders standard data plans without throttling. Why should they even be able to throttle? If a user needs more data then just charge more over a certain limit – but throttling their network speed is coercive.
Network neutrality for all content, all websites, all messaging is the just doctrine for a Common Good like the Internet built with public funds. The fact that corporations think they should be able to do whatever they want shows once again that The Elite has control and power over the public interest. Their position needs to shift to supporting the public interest as priority one, not profits. We need to have the common carriers see they have a public trust, and social responsibility in operating a public Internet utility.