Seldom do we get the chance to build something the way it should be. For the internet, the first chance was back in the 1990s. Not enough was known then. We’ve learned a lot the hard way since.
Let us begin our design by asking, “How best to utilize the internet?” It is apparent that everyone needs, should have basic access. Access on the order of that afforded by the U. S. Postal Service all the years. Like the Postal Service over all the years, today, the internet is an essential service. It is our Postal Service, Sears and Roebuck catalog, telephone and telegraph, TV, visit to the Dr.’s Office, and taxi service rolled into one, and so much more. Like with the Postal Service, access to the internet opens up whole new industries, markets, and services. So, number one, — everyone should have access.
Who should own the internet? In that it is an essential service, let’s make it government owned with everyone having access. How should this government owned entity, this essential service, be funded? It should be funded entirely from users fees; tickets to ride, $/megabit/km. Those who can afford to will pay a basic connection fee. Those who cannot afford to shall have free access. Essential service providers such as government offices (including schools and universities), and healthcare providers shall be allowed to ship these services without charge. All others who ship their goods and services on the internet will pay ‘freight’ or shipping fees. These ‘freight’ or shipping fees shall, at a minimum be of a magnitude sufficient to fund the internet. The government can charge fees at a level above that necessary to build and maintain the internet; can charge more as a source of revenue. Improvements to and expansion of the internet could be funded from reserves or with government bonds.
Why government owned? It is such an essential service that it shouldn’t be in the hands of a private entity. In fact, had the railroads been around in the 1770s, no doubt, they too would have been a public entity. This time, the internet is very much around, and, its essentiality is obvious. Fully as essential as Police and Defense, education, public utilities, and healthcare. It is time and time to stop premising economic decisions on buzz words like free markets and capitalism, and, instead ask how should it be. Markets are not omniscient; money is dumber yet. Both capitalism and socialism are legacy the Industrial Age; neither of them worked all that well then. It’s gotten worse. Some essential services should be owned by the public because it is better that they are. When making economic decisions, neither dogma nor ideology should be determinant. — How should it be? What is the best way to make it happen? Let the application dictate.
Too often, rather than fix something, do what needs to be done, America chooses dogma over reason. Too often, the ideologues via their operatives in Congress say, “Oh no, this should not be. Tear it down. Let the free market decide.” They want to apply their metrics when the only metric that should matter is how best provide essential services. As with the United States Postal Service (USPS), this is a golden opportunity to get it right. Be it ideology or simple greed, they are in the way of America doing things a better way.
If America is not quite ready to make the leap to public (government) ownership, at a minimum, the internet should be a public utility.
Presently, the internet is owned by Internet Service Providers (ISPs). Like with the railroads, we paid for it, they own it. Unlike with the railroad, we paid for it with the fees we paid the ISPs. Unlike with the railroads, we weren’t the shippers. Like with the railroads, fortunes have been amassed, dynasties created. A new generation of Crockers, Goulds, Harrimans, Hopkins, Huntingtons, and Standfords of different names with wealth beyond $billions has been blessed. Just think what a revenue stream it could have been for the US Government if the internet was publicly owned and charged the shippers. Like with the railroads, if a great emergency arose, we would have to nationalize the internet anyway.
What should be done about Section 230? For starters, throw it in the trash. Good intentions perhaps, good thinking, hardly; but, in the final analysis, nothing there worth saving. Time to ask anew, “what should internet regulations look like?” For starters, if a shipper is making money off the product being shipped. then that shipper bears a responsibility for any harm done to the users(s) of that product. Tort reform was but another subsidy of those who didn’t need one at the expense of those who needed protection. Tort is a very important economic and legal tool; and, it can be an effective means of regulation. Far better that Facebook’s victims could have sued for damages. Half of its total present value would be a start. The internet has been around nearly seventy years; Facebook, seventeen. We’ve learned a lot the hard way. Enough to take a better stab at getting it right. This really can’t be put off any longer.
It wasn’t that they couldn’t have foreseen problems more better ; it was that they were looking to do something else. Giving the providers immunity was caught up in the wind of misbegotten tort reform; Chamber of Commerce, uber alles. Too bad about all those deaths; caused Facebook real concern.
Ken, here is my current brain twisting dilemma. I guess I’m just getting too old and jaded in my thoughts.
When I read your thoughtful commentary addressing a huge issue, in this case Internet ownership & regulation, I just sigh with sadness. And there are so many of these huge issues and commentary on proposal and solutions — Voting Rights, Climate Change, Infrastructure, Health Care, Police Reform, Immigration, Civil Rights, Gun Control, SCOTUS Packing, New Statehoods, Campaign Finance & Election Reform, Taxes, Minimum Wage, Women’s Rights, etc., etc.
I sigh because I ask myself, “How are we ever going to solve these problems with the government we have?” My immediate answer is “We won’t! Now, or anytime in the near future.”
Addressing and solving these huge, complex issues requires functioning governments and leadership from government leaders that care about the country and deal in truth, facts, fairness and integrity. Is there any hope that we will ever get to that place? Is there any hope that we can ever begin to address these huge problems and issues? My only hope is for expanding voting rights and voter participation and we are not doing very good on that front.
Yeah. Has Congress ever been this inept for long? Gingrich is the most responsible of all for this lot.
You nailed it. We have huge problems in this a time of great transition and a bunch of greedy, grubby, ignorant, incapable, politicians who couldn’t be trusted with a team of mules.
Lest I’ve implied equivalency between party ineptness, corruption, venality, … there isn’t. Dems have some really good Congresspersons and only a few sorries. With Republicans, the inverse is true. Same is true in the Senate. The Republican party is the problem.