US Gov’t Presents a Grand Scheme for the Internet

“The Federal Communications Commission is proposing an ambitious 10-year plan that will reimagine the nation’s media and technology priorities by establishing high-speed Internet as the country’s dominant communication network.”

So states the lead-in of a March 12, NY Times article that describes the government’s plans to advance the Internet and digital communication in our country. Government officials are interested in addressing disparities regarding how citizens access, use, and experience the Internet.

For several years, the US has trailed numerous countries in the quality and availability of Internet service. The question of how this affects our country, both competitively and economically, is becoming a concern, especially as more of life, including access to medical records, coordinating emergency services, education, and everyday business activity, becomes increasingly reliant on the ‘Net. And then there are the mega-interests — the telecoms, ISPs, entertainment and publishing industries, and electronics manufacturers, to name a few, that have important roles to play in the growth and direction of the Internet.

The blueprint reflects the government’s view that broadband Internet is becoming the common medium in the United States, gradually displacing the telephone and broadcast television industries.

Perhaps even more important is the so-called Digital Divide. “About a third of Americans have no access to high-speed Internet service, cannot afford it, or choose not to have it,” states the article. We have people who can’t afford access and/or devices, along with people who lack the skills or education to participate. On the other are people who choose not to participate. Will life in the US, especially economic life, require a connection? Will savvy users be favored? The possibility of leaving people out is a genuine concern.

Among several provisions, the plan calls for “a subsidy for Internet providers to wire rural parts of the country, an auction of some broadcast spectrum to free up space for wireless devices, and a new universal set-top box that connects to the Internet and cable service.”

This all sounds good, but if our society is to ultimately be “wired” and still depend on the free flow of information, many concerns come with it, including reliability, security, and privacy. We’d certainly enjoy having access to our favorite TV shows and movies whenever we want. But with so much vital information existing online, how safe is that information, how reliable are the systems that deliver it, and how does a government-wired world affect individuals’ freedom? Maybe China’s current Internet policies give us some clues? Hopefully, not.

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