News & Analysis
Government to Control the 'Net – Good Luck With That!
The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) will mark the winter solstice by taking an unprecedented step to expand government's reach into the Internet by attempting to regulate its inner workings. In doing so, the agency will circumvent Congress and disregard a recent court ruling. How did the FCC get here? For years, proponents of so-called "net neutrality" have been calling for strong regulation of broadband "on-ramps" to the Internet, like those provided by your local cable or phone companies. Rules are needed, the argument goes, to ensure that the Internet remains open and free, and to discourage broadband providers from thwarting consumer demand. That sounds good if you say it fast. Nothing is broken that needs fixing, however. – Wall Street Journal / Robert M. MacDowell
Dominant Social Theme: It's over. It's a catastrophe. It's finished.
Free-Market Analysis: Should the government interfere with the Internet? This is a very difficult question to answer. There are so many ways to look at the problem. There are so many things to consider. On the one hand we have things to think about deeply, and on the other we have items that will take deciding as well. After much cogitation we will make up our minds. This will be difficult too. And perhaps it will be too late. Perhaps the FCC will have decided for us. Perhaps we should take away the FCC's right to decide. So many questions!
Of course, the above is a modest attempt at irony. We have stated our position on this issue numerous times, but given that today is the day for the FCC to announce its decision; we will state for the record that it probably does not matter. In terms of the "biggest picture," the Internet is what it is and it will take governments – and the controlling elites behind them – a very long time indeed to tame this technology, relatively speaking.
It began as a technological highway created by the Pentagon's DARPA to link together military researchers with university libraries, etc. The email facility helped expand the system. Then two Steves in a garage created the personal computer and the facility exploded. It was never meant to be what it became. It is a perfect example of the unintended consequences illustrated in free-market economist FA Hayek's spontaneous order. It has given the modern-day Anglo-American elite fits. Senator Jay Rockefeller said in open session that it might have been better if it were never invented. Better for whom?
The elite would take it down if it could. Alternatively, those who have the most to lose (or have lost the most) will try to control and it explain it. They might as well try to rake the wind instead of the leaves. Here's an example of the ups and downs of the Gutenberg press in Britain, to which we have often compared the Internet. There was no real way to contain it at the time, though the powers-that-be surely tried:
English newspapers were among the first in the world to use headlines to attract readers and woodcuts to illustrate stories. English newspapers also set new business standards. They hired women as reporters, printed advertisements as a source of revenue, and paid newsboys, or more commonly newsgirls, to sell papers in the streets.
The fledgling English press faced censorship throughout much of the 17th century. Early newspapers called diurnals – the predecessors of the today's dailies – featured news from all over Europe and occasionally America or Asia. However, government officials discouraged reporting on local matters. In addition, the government tightly regulated print shops. In England, as in most other European countries, the government required printers to have licences to print the news. Printers could lose their licences if they published anything offensive to authorities.
The first major change in this arrangement came in the years before the outbreak of the English Civil War (1642-1648). As Parliament, under the leadership of Oliver Cromwell, struggled with King Charles I, national news assumed a new importance ... The first English newspaper to attempt to report on national news was The Heads of Several Proceedings in This Present Parliament, a weekly that appeared in 1641. The public's appetite for domestic news grew steadily, and soon a number of papers covered national politics and other previously censored topics ...
After the monarchy was restored under King Charles II in 1660, the government gradually ended licensing provisions and other restrictions. The English press published in an atmosphere of considerable freedom – as long as it did not criticize the government. During the upheaval of the Glorious Revolution in 1688 (when Parliament deposed King James II in favour of William of Orange) the English press burst free of nearly all government restrictions. The law that required printers to obtain licences lapsed in 1695. Belief in the right of the press to question and criticize government eventually took hold in England and migrated to its American colonies. (Newspapers, Encarta Encyclopedia)
These sorts of tools – toolkits at the edge of what the human race is capable of – will be used to exhaustion. As we have written previously, the taming of the Internet will not likely happen in this generation – and it has nothing to do with legislation or Money Power and everything to do with the way naked apes relate to technology. The Internet is at once a broadband communicative device, yet one that is capable of providing people the most exquisite details in the same instant. If you asked someone to make it up 50 years ago we doubt one person in a million could have come close to predicting it.
Worried about technological censorship? Technologically, the Internet has never been a free-market product. The “highway” was initially built by the US government and much of the traffic is still controlled by a few powerful government-supervised routers. But it is what has happened “off” the highways, in the byways that is so important. There is a plethora of on-ramps and other connections that have flourished. These are the enterprises of the market itself and these are the facilities that Internet regulation will likely not be able to damage, or certainly not beyond repair. More will be built, often by adolescents. And the threat posed by the ‘Net to the power elite's march towards one-world governance and the complete destruction of individual freedoms will continue to be felt.
People are so concerned about the pricing of the Internet. But the revolution of the Internet lies in its truth telling, and truth telling can be condensed into a few paragraphs of text and sent via email to thousands or millions. There are plenty of ways to distribute non-mainstream opinions, and most of them will remain inexpensive even if it becomes more costly to watch video or play on-line group games.
Conclusion: Millions and billions of words will be written about the coming government (power elite) control of the Internet; how bad it will be; how much worse it could be than it is. Plenty of business models will be floated. Much hair will be pulled out. Clothes will be rent, metaphorically anyway. But in the end, it likely will not matter much. Instinctively, humans will expand the Internet because they must. The government will do this. But others will do THAT. It is not going to be easily or neatly controllable. It is not going to be conveniently regulated. It is not going to be turned off by a switch installed at the White House. It is going to cause fundamental change. It already has.
Posted by Dave on 12/22/10 03:03 PM
This is all about limiting Free Speech. After all, censorship is everywhere. The gov't (and their big business cronies) censor free speech, shut down dissent and ban the book "America Deceived II". Free speech for all.
Last link (before Google Books bans it also]:
Click to view link
Posted by Jdbeck on 12/22/10 11:45 AM
To the best of my knowledge there is nothing in the Federal charter to enforce Income tax in the US....yet millions are having it taken off their pay , every day.
One hopes any system that promotes liberty is here to stay...and in the looooong run , likely it will persevere.
In the immediate future....anything could happen, including our inability to communicate.
Posted by Sundaymorning on 12/22/10 09:32 AM
Are you familiar with a book by Tim Wu, entitled "The master Switch: The Rise And Fall Of Information Empires"? In it , he delineates the development of information systems such as radio, telephone, and television and concludes that all these sysptems start out open and end up closed and controlled by a monopoly.
He notes the similarity between radio and the internet. Radio in its nascence was a scattering of amateur stations that emerged as a platform for hobbyists to share their interests. It was touted in a similar vein as the Internet. Waldemar Kaemffert, then editor of Scientific American, said, :
"All these disconnected communities and houses will be united through radio as they were never united by the telegraph and telelphone." Of course, today, radio is so homogenous you can go anywhere in the country and hear exactly the same thing. Wu argues forcefully that the history of these systems is always from open to closed.
Posted by Jacob on 12/22/10 01:31 AM
Your concerns about due process with regard to threat of internet control are apposite, as they point to a highly dangerous development. The federal government obeyed and met the burden of overcoming legal restraint to justify actions it intended during most of America's history.
There have been notable exceptions, during the terms of Lincoln, Wilson, FDR, LBJ, Nixon, Reagan, and both Bushwhackers. However, following the assassination of JFK, what had been political aberration became disturbingly commonplace. The federal government has since been boldly pursuing its interests in open disregard of legality and popular will, shifting the burden of proof of illegality, and redress, upon its victims.
This legal devolution came glaringly into focus after I heard Karl Rove boast that the Bush administration pursues its objectives without popular regard, keeping its opposition off balance as they struggle to respond. Rove said the Bush administration continuously alters its game plan to circumvent constraint. Ergo, the likes of Attorney General Gonzalez, John Yoo, etc. Today the federal government displays little popular or legal restraint in any venue. The internet is not immune to this phenomenon.
Posted by Elray on 12/22/10 01:02 AM
I agree with those posters who view the internet as a controled medium.
A few of us enjoy and use the internet, (apporaching 30% of the world),
Of these how many are reading alternative sites?
How many use Face B?
Only a handful of users can, or bother, to cover their tracks, so why shut down your most useful tool.
Simply disconnect users who do not conform, visit them at home, nothing like the personal touch.
Has Wleaks presented a challange or an unprecedented opportunity to weed out trouble makers?
What happens when I lose my job and can't pay for the net, will my neighbour risk, allow me to share?
Or will They give it to me for free?
Like snow your tracks lead right back to your front door.
Posted by JOHN ROSSI on 12/22/10 12:02 AM
THERE IS THIS NAGGING FEELING, DEEP INTO THE MIND
IF ONE DIGS DEEPLY,AH, SURPRISE THEY MAY FIND
THE FLAG HE IS FLYING MAY NOT BE WHAT IT DOES SAY
REMOVE ALL OF THE LAYERS, FIND A MAN FROM THE CIA
FIRST FLY....BOND, SET VERY VERY VERY LOW
Posted by Zenbillionaire on 12/21/10 10:15 PM
@ Publius Huldah
While the Bell did righteously take issue with your commentary, I heartily commend your educational efforts, which is to say they made me feel better :)
Posted by Zenbillionaire on 12/21/10 09:36 PM
Oops. My wife called and I must have hit the wrong button while reaching for the phone. I wasn't even sure I was going to post this, now I'm committed:
This worries me, mostly because of the lack of due process coupled with charges that many of the sites weren't involved in any sort of piracy.
It seems to me this is a problem. Yes, there are technical means by which a free internet could take away this power, the one that jumps to the front of my mid is distributed domain name services (DDNS), however it comes with a performance price ISP's (and the world in general) may not be willing to pay unless the situation deteriorates further. Unfortunately even that method might not be sufficient in itself; the DNSSEC protocol leaves us with another choke point to contend with, namely the certificate authorities many of which are under government control.
Finally, I'll leave you with the observation that the so called "free press" of the pre-internet days didn't seem all that free to me and it seems even less free in a retrospective from the Internet age. Much of the optimism in your article comes from the history of 17th and 18th century England, but neglects the slow process of corruption that inevitably led to the MSM of the 20th and 21st centuries. It is difficult to reconcile your optimistic view of humanity's tool use in light of the obvious difference between the MSM and the alternate media offered (however briefly) by the Internet.
Posted by Zenbillionaire on 12/21/10 09:22 PM
I rarely find such an optimistic article here at the Bell and it is occasionally a joy to read one because for awhile I get lost in the argument and I feel a bit better. For that I must thank you. However I have to admit the effect wears off quicker than I'd often like. This time I'm not even going to read the commentary before I render my humble concerns.
I read the article late last night shortly after it was published and before any comment had been made, I have just finished reading it a second time. It worked to ease my mind both times, but the effect was even briefer on the second read. On reflection it was this sentence that came back to haunt me:
"These are the enterprises of the market itself and these are the facilities that Internet regulation will likely not be able to damage, or certainly not beyond repair. "
The feral thought that attached itself and quickly devoured my peace of mind had to do with the recent removal of some 82 domain names by the US Department of Commerce for alleged piracy. As far as I know, there was no legal oversight of that action, the DOC simply ordered the sites taken down. This worries
Posted by Brent on 12/21/10 05:15 PM
Well, the government has had a big psy/ops called the "War on Drugs" for over 2 decades, yet large numbers of Americans still use drugs. I disagree that Americans will be too afraid to access the information they choose to access. We are not that well trained yet.
Posted by Jacob on 12/21/10 05:01 PM
Granted, internet control countermeasures can be employed with varying degrees of success. Most problematic, however, is internet control's chilling effect on the general population, most of whom too frightened or insufficiently motivated to use such countermeasures. Makes one start to believe that all of government is just one big psy/ops exercise.
Posted by Eyes To See, Ears To Hear on 12/21/10 04:59 PM
Well, that didn't take long. The Net Neutrality ruling by the FCC just passed on a 3 to 2 vote.
Click to view link
Posted by Brent on 12/21/10 04:45 PM
Even if they were able to control the "internet" which is doubtful, how would they ever be able to control alternate networks. There are a multiplicity of possibilities in the creation of alternate networks. Some wouldn't even have to necessarily be updated in real time. Perhaps individuals would have their computers completely off any network and receive updates via the mail or a local bookstore. The cost of USB type thumb drives are at a low enough cost (and I'm sure will only continue to decrease) that they could be used to obtain the most up-to-date web pages of your favorite banned site.
Another possibility would be wireless pirate download sites that could be set up anywhere. A computer that is off network could receive web page updates via a USB type thumb drive and then offer updates to others that are within wireless range of that computer. The possibilities are endless.
Reply from The Daily Bell
Good points, thanks.
Posted by Ol' Grey Ghost on 12/21/10 04:35 PM
@Don The RkyMtn Gnome
Those are good ones to add, but I notice no one has picked the big one I was looking for. Something about a "blond stranger..."
Posted by Eyes To See, Ears To Hear on 12/21/10 04:29 PM
"governments of Colombia, Peru, Ecuador and Chile have announced they intend to merge."
With all due respects, your assertion that those four GOVERNMENTS will merge is incorrect. Columbia, Peru and Chile are in discussions about merging their stock markets, not their countries.
Ecuador is not a party in these talks. Perhaps it was a translation problem. The hangup has to do with the vastly different capital gains tax structure each country uses. The dreaded "harmonization" is in the works.
On the other hand, as a Spanish-speaking permanent resident of Ecuador, I agree whole-heartedly with your timely suggestion that DB offer its pages in Spanish.
My Gmail email client does that translation for me, although it lacks the ability of presenting the subtleties of language that DB enjoys crafting into its commentaries. ;-)
One last thought. The fact that an unelected bureaucratic fiefdom of government (FCC) has usurped the Constitutional prerogatives of Congress is no surprise, they have been doing that for years.
The FCC commissioners themselves are usually lawyers, not computer techies. It is the technical staff behind the scenes that will craft the rules that their "betters" will promulgate. And when it comes to tweaking the Internet rules,
I'd much rather have a knowledgeable technocrat "carrying the coal" than some no-nothing, bought-off politician. The devil will be in the details, so I'll wait with bated breath for what they will try to come up with (dangling preposition and all.)
Posted by Jacob on 12/21/10 04:23 PM
If I recall correctly my conversations with my friend, the Chinese are indeed aware of web censorship and sometimes circumvent blocked access by visiting other enabling websites until those sites are blocked in turn. I think the biggest impediment is being unable to host websites critical of the regime. I presume forbidden information is accessed at unblocked foreign sites and domestic workarounds.
Reply from The Daily Bell
That is our understanding. Thanks.
Posted by Avatar on 12/21/10 04:04 PM
LOL- THE AMERICAN PEOPLE WILL RISE UP IN ARMS-NOT. Not unless cell phone, texting or social sites are affected. The shallowness of the average citizen in internet use cannot be understated. This explains why the FED ponzi scheme has worked so well to enslave the American people in a mountain of needless debt.
Posted by Don The RkyMtn Gnome on 12/21/10 03:32 PM
@Ol' Grey Ghost
Government fails to control vehicular speeds despite its own agent's core competency of handing out tickets to its most law abiding citizens.
How about that epic fail on the DC powers-that-be's southern border? Mexican crime lords who usurped DC now act as de facto powers-that-be on the southern border. How can the DC powers-that-be control the whole world when they can't even control their own southern border?
One can make a plausible argument that the DC powers-that-be actually control a few blocks around the White House where the murder rate falls to nearly zero. Enough murder still happens outside of those few blocks to make DC a contender for murder capital year after year.
Posted by Jacob on 12/21/10 01:40 PM
I have a long-standing friend who lives full time in Beijing. He's a retired millionaire. He told me that the Chinese government blocks many websites. He said there were occasions when even his access to the Wall Street Journal had been impeded. He says the Chinese are used to this. So Americans should not feel terribly surprised by similar upcoming controls.
Reply from The Daily Bell
And the controls are effective? The Chinese are not aware of the censorship and do not get around it in some cases, depending on their level of motivation? Thanks for commenting, by the way. Always appreciate first-hand insights ...
Posted by Owen Jones on 12/21/10 01:23 PM
@ Reply from the Daily Bell:
Translations are in the works. That merger thing is interesting ...
You have links?
This group is dedicated to authentic journalism. Seems like a good fit. They report on Mexico, Central and South America. In Spanish and English. Al Giordano is the main guy.
Hope this helps.
Reply from The Daily Bell