Controlling the Internet

Last weekend in Seattle, fellow racer Rick Korn said I should focus on social commentary rather than my literary efforts. Rick and I were having a conversation about publishing, crowd-sourcing, and how the Internet has become an essential utility for commerce and communication, the major information artery of our society. It carries blood, not iced tea.

And it is controlled by a few oligarchs who have increasing power to dictate what we see, and when we see it, through ownership of the access points. The uproar about the National Security Agency collection of “meta-data” is really only the tip of the iceberg.

While no one “owns” the Internet, how we get there is owned by ATT, Verizon, Comcast (Xfinity?) and a handful of others. Those access points have sniffers and filters by which they take our personal information. So, not only do they charge us for access, they turn around and sell the information they sniff out to others, or give it to the government. They have the power to examine every place we visit, analyze wherever we go for information, filter what we see, and wrap it in ads.

The Internet is too essential to allow corporations to control the on-ramps and off-ramps in any way. ATT, Verizon, Comcast, Google, Apple and the others are not to be trusted. Not because of obvious malfeasance, though there is evidence of that, but because the past has shown that control of an essential commodity or service will be abused. See the history of oil companies, or railroads.

Here are my suggestions: Every effort should be made to maximize competition in every identified market at every level of integration. We should be allowed to buy any phone we want and use it on any compatible carrier. Their blather about compatibility and security is just a smoke screen.

Usage should be charged on an actual metered basis. A friend of mine pays $50 per month for data. She was charged an additional $10 one month because she went over her 5 gig limit. But she had not used any service the previous month, nor any the month after, and paid $50 for each of those. So the total was $160 for less than six gigs.

This is like buying water by the barrel, delivered every month. It’s one thing to charge if you order another bucket, but how many of us would stand for it if the water we had paid for but not used was engineered to evaporate on the 10th of every month?

The law has lagged so far behind the technology, and often been written by the oligarchs themselves, that it no longer serves the interest of those of us who own the spectrum.

A toll road is a freeway where you pay someone to get on or get off. It’s one thing to pay to get on. It is another when the owner of the toll booth tracks where you go, and maybe sells that info later, or blackmails you with it, or gives it to an agency that pulls you in for an interrogation even though all you did was drive past a mosque or synagogue or a pro-peace rally.

Ownership of all personal information should belong to the person about whom the information is about, not to those collecting the information. Any attempt to collect information without a court order must be disclosed, and approved of, with the ability to say “no” as easy it is to say “yes.”

One final point: these are very conservative, Republican concepts. They are offered in the spirit of the real Boston Tea Party, where the East India Company, in collusion with the English monarchy, was taking advantage of their control over transport of tea to the colonies.  That not only led to a declaration of independence, it’s why there are so many Starbucks in Seattle.

Thank you, Rick.