Government to Control the 'Net – Good Luck With That!
By Staff News & Analysis - December 21, 2010

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.

After Thoughts

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.