October 21, 2016

I think it’s time to nationalize the Net

I live in Deep East Texas, a densely rural land that may have the charm of smaller towns for some, but also lacks some amenities levels.

Among them, and arguably not an amenity, but a “need,” is reliable, quality Internet service.

So, the two most recent, frustrating major bouts with Internet access in this area — with smaller mini-bouts in between — has me saying, at a minimum, “We should be seriously considering it,” on the issue I mention in the header.

I had once thought that simply regulating the Internet as a common-carrier type utility would be enough, but now, I don’t think so

Yes, I hear cries of “socialism” in the background from not just conservatives but those not that liberal.

And, you know what? From the early days of our nation, we had socialism — as in corporate socialism government of a business, and not welfare-state benefits socialism — at the heart of the government.

Specifically, before 1971, we did not have a quasi-government, quasi-private United States Postal Service.

We had the United States Post Office. It was a Cabinet agency, with the Postmaster General sitting there with the Secretary of State, Treasury Secretary and others.

Indeed, the Constitution even expressly says that insuring delivery of the mails is a requirement of our government.

Specifically, Article 1, Section 8, says: “The Congress shall have Power … To establish Post Offices and post Roads.” And, for nearly 200 years, that was interpreted as the government directly doing all of this through a government-owned post office.

And, to further improve on that, late in the 1800s, Congress adopted Rural Free Delivery, which means that the price of a letter to a county road address is the same as one to Dallas or Houston. Before then, people living on farms or otherwise isolated either had to go to a distant (in pre-automobile days) post office, or else pay a private carrier to bring the mail the rest of the way to them.

Anyway, per that Constitutional requirement? I think a reasonably broad, but certainly not overly broad, interpretation of the mandate for our government to insure delivery of the mail, or more specifically, to “establish … post Roads,” one could argue that the Internet is today’s functional equivalent of the mail — and, the delivery thereof.
Nationalizing the Internet would solve several issues.

First, with an Internet equivalent of Rural Free Delivery, the backwoods of America wouldn’t be poor stepsisters to the big cities in terms of online communication. That applies to both Internet speed and, to get back to the starting point, Internet service and reliability.

Related to that, it might mean that the U.S. has top Internet speeds that at least approach those of other developed nations. (Right now, we don’t, in case you’re wondering.)

Second, this would work around the whole issue of “Net neutrality.” Folks like AT&T would like to put the squeeze on third-party content providers, like, say, Netflix, and make you pay more to get your Netflix movie faster.

Third, with a non-capitalistic focus on short-term profit, the Internet could be really addressed as a long-term infrastructure issue.

Some people might offer counterargument.

The first might be fears of government censorship, government snooping, or other similar problems.

On paper, that sounds like a legitimate worry. In reality?           

Either as the fully public USPO before 1971, or the public/private USPS, this hasn’t happened to the U.S. Mail in any great degree. Second, courtesy of the Patriot Act, if not censoring, the government may be spying on your email and other Internet use as delivered by private businesses even as we speak. (And, no, that’s most definitely not an argument for keeping the Patriot Act around.)

So, that one’s not a game-killer for me.

Others may point to electric deregulation.

First, I’m not sure electric dereg is all its cracked up to be. Second, electric dereg hasn’t addressed rural-urban differences in electric reliability. (Nobody’s paying to bury electric lines underground, safe from wind and ice storms, out in small-town America, for the most part.)

But, I actually have a better idea.

Let’s selectively nationalize the Internet, in a way that addresses most current service concerns, but government control worries at the same time.

Washington takes over the infrastructure. The flip side is that ALL companies get to ride down what used to be AT&T’s wires here, or somebody else’s elsewhere.

One caveat would exist — all Internet companies would have to offer some sort of good-faith equivalent of Rural Free Delivery in the old mail.

But, this system would force that, anyway. This would be what electric dereg was supposed to do, and really didn’t. If A&T had to compete with Verizon, and Suddenlink, and maybe even out of nowhere, Comcast, they’d all reduce prices closer to hose of other modern developed nations. (The feds would have to enforce antitrust legislation on mergers, of course.)

No censorship by the private companies.

Adequate federal regulation (itself perhaps a bit of a pipe dream) addresses the rest of the issues.

A lot more about Net Neutrality, monopoly, quasi-monopoly, privacy and related issues are at this longform piece. This issue is yet another reason we need to look at the idea of at least partial nationalization, I think.

1 comment:

paintedjaguar said...

Past time. Due to privatization and service cutbacks, it's hard to even interact with the government without good internet access, much less private and commercial business. For instance, the last two years my local IRS office has run out of paper forms and instructions weeks before the filing deadline.

Then there are the bought politicians busily making it illegal for municipalities to offer cheap internet or public wireless.