You Probably Don’t Own A Horse And Buggy Or Pan For Gold. So Why Are You Interneting Like It’s 1899?

Maybe you haven’t heard, but right now the freedom of the Internet is in serious jeopardy. As in, giant corporations that control our access to the Internet are on the verge of turning it into cable TV. Gross.

We need to take a trip down memory lane and change how we think about the Internet if we're gonna make things right.

Constructively channel your anger by demanding your government make things right.

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Sam Seder: Tell us your argument that the Internet, essentially, our capacity to go online, really should be treated like a utility, basically like electricity was a hundred years go.

Susan Crawford: Well, thanks for the question. Yes, people may not know this, but electricity was considered to be a luxury a hundred years ago and 90 percent of farmers didn't have it and it was controlled by large trusts that had combined to control more than 85 percent of the electricity distribution market. Today, you can't start a new business, or get a job, or get a good education, or get access to the most modern healthcare resources without having a wired connection to the Internet. And 83 percent of people who have smartphones also have wired connections. What happened is that, for 19 million Americans, they can't get wired access at any cost because it just isn't available where they are. A third of Americans don't subscribe to a wired home connection, many because of cost, some because they just don't understand its relevance. And compared to other countries prices are quite high in the United States and capacity is pretty low. This has all happened because over the last 10 years or so we've completely deregulated this sector, leading to both, no competition in the market for wired Internet access and, by the way, also pretty low levels of competition for wireless access. Verizon and AT&T really dominate that field. So no real competition and no oversight, which is a terrible combination for something that Americans need, just like clean water and electricity.

Sam Seder: From a historical standpoint, just tell us what did happen with electricity because you have this situation where it's obviously, in some respects, it's just simply not worth it for a private entity to provide universal access. You know, those last couple of miles, or in some cases, you know, back then tens of miles were just simply not worth laying down the copper, as it were, or the wire, to deliver electricity. Just give us a notion of exactly what the U.S. government did at that.

Susan Crawford: Well, this problem operates on a few levels. So, for very far flung rural areas, the federal government, back in the 20s and 30s, encouraged the development of rural cooperatives that would help municipalities and communities help themselves to provide electricity where the incumbents found it uneconomic to serve those areas. So electricity in rural areas, we encourage rural cooperatives, and then in urban areas made sure that wholesale prices were regulated and that a standard for electricity was provided for everybody so that we could operate all the machines and devices we want to. So fast forward, got a very similar situation now for very high speed Internet access. In most parts of the country, you're only choice for a world class, wired Internet connection is your local cable monopoly, and that company isn't subject to very much oversight, if any. And for other parts of the country, they're just unserved, particularly rural areas. So we've got a similar problem, an absence of competition in areas where competition is possible, and then an absence of service in areas where the companies feel its uneconomical to go there. This is leading to a very large policy problem for the United States because everything we want to do, from climate change to, you know, improving healthcare, to improving educational resources around the country depends on having a reliable, first-rate, wired Internet network around the country.

There may be small errors in this transcript.

This video is from "Majority Report" with Sam Seder. The woman doing the explaining is the brilliant Susan Crawford, who wrote this book.

DISCLOSURE: I met her once at a party and she was nice.

Thumbnail image by purplejavatroll, used under Creative Commons.

May 13, 2014

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