A bit of trivia:
Which nation invented the Internet?
Which nation’s tax dollars helped build the infrastructure of the Internet?
Which nation’s consumers gets the worst deal (i.e. they pay some of the highest prices for Internet connection while at the same time getting fairly mediocre service)?
Yes, oh yes, the answer is one and the same for all questions: The United States of America.
Like so many things, the Internet was a publicly funded enterprise paid for with our tax dollars, then it was essentially given to a few corporations so that they could monetize it. Comcast CEO Brian Roberts last year made $33 million. #thankscapitalism
But things don’t have to be this way. There are real alternatives, and we have a unique opportunity, now, to change course.
Trump and his Republican cronies are eager to repeal Net Neutrality, which basically means that consumers will pay even more for even less. It will mean that accessing certain types of content (like YouTube or Netflix) will require us to pay a premium. Paying for Internet access won’t actually give you the Internet. Instead you’ll pay for the Internet and get something like the “basic cable” you get from Comcast, you know, those thirteen channels no one watches, and if you want to actually stream music or video, then you’ll have to pay the big buck$.
Like healthcare, the Internet would work better for all people if it were owned and democratically controlled by the people
The issue is deeper and wider than just fighting over Net Neutrality. The Internet is an excellent example of how corporations use capitalism to fleece the public — it’s also a perfect example of how things could be much, much better. Ben Tarnoff in the Guardian puts it this way:
“Net neutrality is worth defending, but we can’t only play defense. Just as we should protect Obamacare while pushing for Medicare for All, we should protect the net neutrality rules while pushing for a public internet. The case couldn’t be more concrete: a public internet promises lower costs, faster speeds, and popular sovereignty over one of society’s most important infrastructures…”
Socialism is giving people power to participate in the decisions that most affect them
Like healthcare, the Internet would work better for all people if it were owned and democratically controlled by the people. The economic basics of free markets (supply and demand, etc.) work well on a small scale (like a farmer’s market, for example), but in a modern economy there are certain services that work best when they are public services, things like utility companies, transportation infrastructure (roads and bridges), healthcare, education, and yes, the Internet. We could even democratize Facebook.
It’s common sense, really, and it’s socialism. Socialism is about decentralizing power, and it’s about greater democracy.
“We need a socialist agenda,” Tarnoff continues, “for the internet for the same reason that we need a socialist agenda for healthcare and higher education: because it’s the best way to give people the resources they need to lead dignified lives, and the power to participate in the decisions that most affect them.”
When we privatize public services, the story ends the same way, every time: corporations make big money, and the public pays more and gets less. It’s part of the race to the bottom, the dystopian America where the few have everything and the rest of us scrape by. Socialism is the opposite: those who are affected by a decision should have a say in that decision. Socialism isn’t about being controlled, it’s about taking control.
In the Trump era, we have a unique opportunity to re-think. Rather than simply reacting with outrage to the latest bullshit, it’s time to work toward something completely new. The window of time is small, only a few years, but the opportunity we have is real.
Things don’t have to be this way, and real alternatives exist to the dystopian shadow that is spreading across the country. The Internet is the latest example of the many ways in which we could transform society for the better, simply by taking it, by taking the Internet back from the corporatist profiteers.
Ben Tarnoff writes a longer article on the public origins of the Internet at Jacobin, The Internet Should Be A Public Good