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The Internet Government

To Save the Internet We Need To Own the Means of Distribution 338

indros13 (531405) writes "Net neutrality took a hit when the FCC gave its blessing to "Internet fast lanes' last week and one commentator believes that the solution is simple: public ownership of the hardware. 'Owning the means of distribution is a traditional function of local government. We call our roads and bridges and water and sewer pipe networks public infrastructure for a reason. In the 19th century local and state governments concluded that the transportation of people and goods was so essential to a modern economy that the key distribution system must be publicly owned. In the 21st century the transportation of information is equally essential.'

Is the Internet essential infrastructure? Should local governments step in to preserve equality of access?"
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To Save the Internet We Need To Own the Means of Distribution

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  • Yes, totally (Score:4, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday April 29, 2014 @08:07AM (#46866641)

    I mean, just look at how great things are now that the FCC regulates the internet. Can't wait to have more business-owned politicians to mingle in the foundations of the internet.

  • Yes. (Score:5, Insightful)

    by KraxxxZ01 ( 2445360 ) on Tuesday April 29, 2014 @08:08AM (#46866647)

    "Is the Internet essential infrastructure? Should local governments step in to preserve equality of access?"


  • by rmdingler ( 1955220 ) on Tuesday April 29, 2014 @08:09AM (#46866651) Journal
    However, given local and national governments' propensity to legislate the way the political donors dictate, it would seem on reflection that not much would change.
  • by argStyopa ( 232550 ) on Tuesday April 29, 2014 @08:19AM (#46866717) Journal

    I love it when some utopian statist poses such a question - "should the government take over X for the benefit of all?" - as if government is a neutral, rational entity that has the best interest of the public at heart.

    Local governments (still, one might put it, "within arm's reach of the voter")? Very likely so. I know lots of people at the local government levels that work their asses off to do the right thing and the best thing for their communities.

    But what has been abundantly proven over and over from the food industry to the car industry to the power industry to the cable tv industry is that larger scales of government are ever-more corrupted/corruptable to the point that at the highest, federal level, it's lobbyists, private interests, and power-brokers all the way through.

    I used to be a starry-eyed idealist, and was insulted when Jackie Chan commented to a Chinese paper that "America is more corrupt than China". I still think he's wrong in an absolute sense, but the more I try to look clearly and skeptically at my own country and government, the more I'm repulsed by the greed and nepotism at the highest levels and am, perhaps finally, beginning to admit that it may not be fixable.

  • Re:Yes. (Score:3, Insightful)

    by felipou ( 2748041 ) on Tuesday April 29, 2014 @08:24AM (#46866761)
    Exactly. Just like electricity.
  • Re:Yes. (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday April 29, 2014 @08:27AM (#46866773)

    The internet is not about games and shit anymore. People do online banking and pay bills etc some companies even charge for paper bills, so being online is pretty essential.

  • Re: Yes. (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday April 29, 2014 @08:28AM (#46866787)

    By that argument you could say that electricity isn't essential. I would argue that internet is essential for a functional modern economy just as electricity is.

  • Actually yes (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday April 29, 2014 @08:29AM (#46866795)

    The question is not if the Internet is essential for survival, but rather is it "essential infrastructure". In that sense, I think most here would agree; yes. Roads are not necessary for survival in the same sense of food and water, but are clearly considered "essential". Game consoles are not essential anywhere, as they serve primarily as an entertainment device.

  • Re:Yes. (Score:3, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday April 29, 2014 @08:29AM (#46866797)
    In the same way a high school education is not an "essential". Our entire economy is based on "wants". If we lost "Internet, phones, game consoles, etc", our economy would crash over night and people would starve and die because they couldn't make money and because no one could grow their own food in a city.

    So yes, the Internet can be considered a "need".
  • Re:Yes. (Score:4, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday April 29, 2014 @08:30AM (#46866801)

    Well, communications save lives. This is why old cell phones still have 911 access without a subscription. VOIP and education via internet i argue are essential. Public schools are public because education is important. The internet has all the information we have compiled, and as such is a resource that should be public.

  • Re:Yes. (Score:3, Insightful)

    by Culture20 ( 968837 ) on Tuesday April 29, 2014 @08:32AM (#46866823)
    Essential infrastructure for what? Roads aren't essential for survival. Electricity isn't essential for survival. But essential for modern life? Essential for sustaining the economy? Essential for military security (that's the initial reason for public roads and the internet).
  • by x0 ( 32926 ) on Tuesday April 29, 2014 @08:33AM (#46866835) Homepage
    After all of the revelations by Snowden, I find it incredulous that people still think the government should have greater access and ownership over our data.


  • by laird ( 2705 ) <lairdp@gmai[ ]om ['l.c' in gap]> on Tuesday April 29, 2014 @08:36AM (#46866869) Journal

    Privatization is a scam. Governments sell off public assets that are needed long-term for a short-term cash boost, but then the public pays more forever for the use of the assets. So it makes one year's budget look better but is a *terrible* deal for the public. But if the local government is full of self-centered people that don't care about the long-term, they'll make that tradeoff. It's easy to come up with examples: water, roads, parking meters, mercenaries replacing soldiers, you name it - letting private, for-profit businesses take over what should be public infrastructure has consistently been a disaster for everyone other than the business' investors, as the businesses always deliver as little value as possible while jacking up prices, because that maximizes investor ROI. Public infrastructure should be run to maximize value delivered to the public, not ROI to the investors. And the two motivations, public service vs. private profit, are in direct opposition, which is why it fails every time.

    As for network, I'd suggest that very much like water, postal service, etc., that the city should run a public networking utility, and people who want more/better can use private services. That eliminates most of the overhead from the equation, letting the engineers focus on delivering services efficiently. For example, if you look at telecommunications generally, the actual cost of delivering the voice/data is a relatively trivial cost. The complexity of metering usage and billing for it, marketing, sales, distribution deals, executives, etc., is the large majority of the costs. So if everyone got, say, 100 Mbps for a flat fee, paid for by splitting the cost and covering them with no profit margin, the cost per-person would be much, much lower than what we're paying now for service. And because it would be publicly managed and audited, anyone can inspect the books, and voters can control the policies. Very different from private business, which can hide their costs and do anything they like with the traffic.

    And if a private provider can come in and compete with that, great! Competition is good! It's just for-profit monopolies that are bad.

  • Re:Yes. (Score:4, Insightful)

    by edcalaban ( 1077719 ) on Tuesday April 29, 2014 @08:37AM (#46866871)
    If you're taking an extremely narrow understanding of essential, then yes. However, there are other reasons things might be essential - take Reverse 911 [] for emergency awareness (requires a phone). More generally, in this case essential infrastructure is actually being used like the term critical infrastructure []. Some examples (cribbed without shame):
    • electricity generation, transmission and distribution
    • public health (hospitals, ambulances)
    • water supply (drinking water, waste water/sewage, stemming of surface water (e.g. dikes and sluices))
    • telecommunication

    So the question becomes, "is the Internet critical infrastructure", not "is the Internet essential for survival". Personally, I think it falls quite nicely under telecommunications.

  • Re:Yes. (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Shadow99_1 ( 86250 ) <theshadow99@g[ ] ['mai' in gap]> on Tuesday April 29, 2014 @08:42AM (#46866909)

    Seeing as how I cannot actually do simple things like paying my state taxes without the internet these days and companies certainly don't even want to mail me a paper bill... Then yes the internet is a need.

  • Re:Yes, totally (Score:2, Insightful)

    by Jhon ( 241832 ) on Tuesday April 29, 2014 @08:49AM (#46866947) Homepage Journal

    "This AC was modded as troll, but I think ve is just assuming that politicians would try to take advantage of the infrastructure... in my opinion improbable, as it would be a much more explicit level of corruption than the regulatory capture we have nowadays."

    I'm less worried about direct corruption and much more worried about neglect. Privately owned, there is an incentive to fix damage and maintain infrastructure. Publicly owned, the money that would otherwise be used here would be redirected to someone's pet project.

  • Re:Yes, totally (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Pizza ( 87623 ) on Tuesday April 29, 2014 @08:55AM (#46866973) Homepage Journal

    Privately owned, there is an incentive to fix damage and maintain infrastructure. Publicly owned, the money that would otherwise be used here would be redirected to someone's pet project.

    Oh, you mean like the incentives that Verizon have had to fix post-Sandy damage and maintain their DSL infrastructure? Face it, when there's no meaningful competition, there is no incentive to do any more than the legal minimum. There's far, far, far more accountability at the local governmental level.

  • Re:Yes. (Score:4, Insightful)

    by BlueMonk ( 101716 ) <> on Tuesday April 29, 2014 @09:08AM (#46867107) Homepage
    That view is way oversimplified and completely ignores how our evolving society has changed the rules. If Internet and phones disappeared tomorrow, people would likely start dying in much greater numbers in the not-too-distant future. We now depend heavily on this sort of communication to know where food and water needs to be. People don't live near sources of food and water any more because they don't need to any more because other technologies have sprung up to make it possible to survive without doing so. If those go away, so do the people.
  • Re:Yes, totally (Score:4, Insightful)

    by TheDarkMaster ( 1292526 ) on Tuesday April 29, 2014 @09:11AM (#46867123)
    Sorry, competition is a word into disuse in the current capitalist model.
  • Re:Yes, totally (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Pizza ( 87623 ) on Tuesday April 29, 2014 @09:19AM (#46867185) Homepage Journal

    No I mean like the 90 years it'll currently take to repair the sidewalks of Los Angeles. Or the potholes in the roads and highways causing residents to sue city and state to repair car damages. Or the bursting of 100 year old water pipes that haven't been maintained.

    Yes ... "far far far" more accountability at the local government level.

    I think what you're pointing out is the inability of governance and accountability to work beyond a certain scale. Which, unfortunately, is usually due more to corruption than anything else. One could argue this same corruption (albeit more likely at a county or state level) is why the reason why private last-mile monopolies are particularly awful.

    I know folks who live in places where the municipality is their ISP and TV provider. They consistently pay less (and get better service for their money!) than I ever have. I also know folks who are forced into using a specified ISP/TV provider by their HoA or Apartment -- they consistently may more and get far worse service than even the local telco would provide, if that was even an option. (I've had to put up with that too, FWIW).

    Moral of my rambling? Monopolies are generally bad, but if you're going to have one, put it in the hands of an organization that is *supposed* to be looking out for the public interest, rather than explicitly seeking to milk the public for everything it can.

  • Re:Indeed. (Score:4, Insightful)

    by whistlingtony ( 691548 ) on Tuesday April 29, 2014 @09:54AM (#46867505)

    well, if conservatives would stop lobbying for lower and lower taxes(but only for the rich), maybe all our infrastructure wouldn't be crumbling.... You'd think people would get that crumbling government is EXACTLY what conservatives want. They even SAID SO. They are actively trying to starve the government so it shrinks and they can point to all the badness and say "See! We told you government sucked!" even though they're the ones that caused it all.

    "Our goal is to shrink government to the size where we can drown it in a bathtub." - Grover Norquist

    What do you people THINK happens when you keep cutting taxes. Guess what. You can't pay for things. Military has to be paid for. debts have to be paid for. Social Security has to be paid for (because it's OUR money). Roads? Bridges? Those can wait a few more years...

  • Re:Yes. (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Teancum ( 67324 ) <[ten.orezten] [ta] [gninroh_trebor]> on Tuesday April 29, 2014 @09:59AM (#46867545) Homepage Journal

    If you are worried about smaller companies being represented, you really want municipal governments involved. They tend not to be concerned at all with regards to large multi-national companies, but they do care about local businesses (as do their constituents). It is possible for a large company to dominate the local politics, but such companies "own" the town anyway in a number of ways and usually means the employees of that company are the ones who mostly dominate the local politics too (as opposed to the CEO).

    A big company like Comcast is likely to lose an argument in terms of throwing their weight around in local politics, but they definitely are able to control the discussion when done on a national level. That is the reason why the fight in the U.S. Congress and with the FCC is happening at all, because it isn't being controlled at the local level.

  • by whistlingtony ( 691548 ) on Tuesday April 29, 2014 @10:05AM (#46867575)

    I'm seeing a LOT of "Government BAD" comments here.

    I was around in the early days of the internet. It was a happening time. There was practically an ISP on every block back in the dial up days. Dial up service was CHEAP, it was ALWAYS upgrading, there was TONS of competition. It was awesome. Sure, speeds sucked, but it was what we had. Half the internet wasn't flash ads either, so it wasn't all that bad. The point was there was LOTS of competition and you could choose the big ISP or the small neighborhood ISP. The small neighorhood ISP could actually survive because the government told the Big Boys to play fair with the lines (that tax money subsidized). I was in a small town and we had several local ISPs. We had choices.

    Know why? Common Carrier rules. Government regulation of critical infrastructure for the benefit of everyone. And it was AWESOME.

    All these people whining about how the government is bad and always screws things up are just flat out WRONG. They're either too young to remember the age of dial up, or too ideologically opposed. Worse, they're LIVING In a privately controlled and unregulated internet. And it SUCKS and it's getting worse, and they're STILL defend it because they've been brainwashed. It turns my stomach....

    You've seen the internet grow up under regulation. You've seen the competition and thriving it caused. Now you're seeing what happens when we take away the regulation. We're seeing the decline of competition. You're seeing, for the FIRST TIME EVER, that speeds are going DOWN while prices go up. Put 2 and 2 together, sheesh....

  • Re:Yes, totally (Score:5, Insightful)

    by BVis ( 267028 ) on Tuesday April 29, 2014 @10:08AM (#46867595)

    On the flip side, our water is provided by a private company. They are terrible. They're a classic example of a private company cutting every corner it can find, legal or not. We can't even fine them effectively, since business-friendly regulation allows them to simply pass on the cost of the fine directly to the customer, with no government oversight or influence. They have to lobby the town for rate increases (which they get, much to the voter's chagrin most of the time), but they can tack on all the fees they want to recover fines. Their infrastructure is totally inadequate and has about 4 hours of water in it in the case of a single pump failure. They're breaking the contract by doing that and numerous other things (for example, not having contract-mandated disaster plans written up and waiting to be used) but they have no competition and no incentive to improve. They're no better than a municipal service, and in some cases a lot worse. We had a boil order a few years back that went on for nearly two weeks.

    They have no incentive to improve; so long as they have the contract (and how is anyone supposed to enter the market to compete with them), they have guaranteed business with no market pressure. At least a municipal service could have its house cleaned out by elected officials. There's actually talk of the town buying them out. Short of that, what are we going to do? They have a stranglehold on a vital town service and have no incentive to do anything other than make money.

  • Lowest Bidder (Score:4, Insightful)

    by DiscountBorg(TM) ( 1262102 ) on Tuesday April 29, 2014 @10:34AM (#46867877)

    Subject says it all really. A major issue at least where I live is that private contracts with the government must go to the lowest bidder. This kind of short-term thinking is the perfect way to assure one has a crumbling infrastructure that costs more money in the long run.

  • Re:Yes, totally (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Pizza ( 87623 ) on Tuesday April 29, 2014 @11:18AM (#46868361) Homepage Journal

    None of that is necessarily corrupt, it's just short-sighted. Most cities "need" to replace their plumbing infrastructure, repair and replace roads and sidewalks, shore up levies, and at some point they'll need to upgrade internet infrastructure.

    And there are pretty easy solutions to that sort of thing too. For eleven years, I lived in a town which had its own municpal water system. While ostensibly under control of the city, it was a legally and financially a separate entity. Its operational finances were handled by use fees, and capital expenditures were primarily financed using municipal bonds, which were repaid using a variety of sources ("profits" from use fees, state/federal grants, etc).

    A municipal ISP could easily be set up the same way, Assuming my state hadn't already effectively banned municipal ISPs in the name of "leveling the playing field." Yay for corrpution. Oh, wait, I meant lobbying and campaign contributions.

  • Re:Yes, totally (Score:4, Insightful)

    by Pizza ( 87623 ) on Tuesday April 29, 2014 @11:31AM (#46868509) Homepage Journal

    When you say they pay less, are you including the portions of their tax bill that go toward these systems?

    In one case, none of their tax bill went towards their municipal ISP because it was financed independently. In the other two cases, I can't say one way or another because I simply don't know.

    But let's be honest here, remove the requirement to extract a profit for shareholders, and all else being equal, the customer bill will be lower for a public ISP.

    (And please don't try to argue "government management BAD" in a municipal utility; as a whole they are far better run than their private counterparts!)

  • Re:Yes, totally (Score:4, Insightful)

    by dgatwood ( 11270 ) on Tuesday April 29, 2014 @01:43PM (#46869943) Homepage Journal

    But what constitutes abuse? What is seen as abusive overuse of bandwidth today is often the cutting-edge use of bandwidth that will be commonplace tomorrow. By metering bandwidth, you discourage these services from coming into existence by discouraging users, and discourage improvements in existing technology that would require more bandwidth. If we had been metered ten years ago, Netflix would still be limited to sending DVDs through the mail, Amazon Prime would have no streaming, Hulu wouldn't exist, YouTube wouldn't exist, and so on. In effect, bandwidth metering would permanently tie the hands of innovators behind their backs, and would freeze Internet technologies in roughly their current state. Future improvements would move at a snail's pace. Do you really want to do that?

    And even if you ignore its effects on technological advancement, bandwidth metering is like putting a partially loaded gun to the heads of the Internet's users, spinning the barrel, and pulling the trigger. The problem with pay-per-gig schemes is that your Internet usage isn't entirely under your control. To give a non-high-tech analogy, imagine if you had an extra water faucet under your house that ran directly into the sewer, and anyone in the world could remotely turn on that water faucet, whether you were home to hear it or not. Now, would you still be in favor of paying for water by the gallon, knowing that other people outside your control could cause you to waste arbitrary, near-infinite amounts of water?

    Internet usage behaves much like a house with just such a hidden, remote-controlled faucet. You're only in control of outgoing connections, not incoming connections. And even with outgoing connections, you aren't always in control. If you're running an FTP server, remote attackers can cause you to make arbitrary numbers of outgoing connections. If you're running a DNS server, the same applies (but not connections, per se). And if your computer gets bitten by any sort of virus, worm, or other malware, the command-and-control server could cause your computer to produce arbitrary amounts of outgoing traffic. And if you run software that falls victim to various amplification attacks... you get the idea. Therefore, anyone living anywhere in the world can turn your connection into a giant money pit, running up your bill arbitrarily, and there is no feasible way to prevent it without fundamentally breaking the end-to-end connectivity upon which the Internet depends.

    Now in theory, we could create a new billing scheme for the Internet in which you paid for your Internet connection based only on outgoing connections, and that would reduce (but not eliminate) that risk. However, then you'd have folks who own servers getting massively undercharged because they would never pay for anything above the base bandwidth cost even though they were essentially using a lot more bandwidth. And how would you meter UDP? The truly abusive apps would move to UDP, thus concealing which end of the connection is the requestor, while leaving everyone else dealing with the extra costs of bandwidth metering without the benefits.

    Therefore, the only fair, reasonable way to charge for Internet connections is an unlimited, unmetered connection, limited by bandwidth. Those who want more capacity should pay for more capacity, and those who don't won't. Ideally, this should be coupled with a temporary speed boost for the first few minutes of transfers, and you (as the user) should be able to control which computers get that boost. This provides the benefits of a faster connection to users who only occasionally need extra bandwidth, without requiring them to pay the extra cost of an always-faster connection. And those "bandwidth abusers", as you call them, would not be happy with that, and would pay the extra money for an always-faster connection.

    Such "slow after a bandwidth limit" schemes seem perfectly reasonable to me, so long as all of the details are fully disclosed to the customer as part of the ISP

The only possible interpretation of any research whatever in the `social sciences' is: some do, some don't. -- Ernest Rutherford