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. It appears that government officials are becoming interested in addressing some of the disparities that have arisen 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 might affect 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 is mega-business — the telecoms, ISPs, entertainment and publishing industries and electronics manufacturers, to name a few — that all have a huge interest in the growth and direction of Internet access.

“The blueprint reflects the government’s view that broadband Internet is becoming the common medium of 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. On the one hand 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 people being left 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 going to be completely “wired,” and therefore dependent upon the free flow of information over a government-sponsored Internet, a host of concerns comes with it, including reliability, security and privacy. Sure, it will be great to get our favorite TV shows and movies instantly, but can people afford the devices (and the steady stream of new devices) required to “keep up?” Will everyone possess the technical skills required to maintain their devices and connections, which will be increasingly necessary as more of our vital information exists online? What happens when critical systems go down? And perhaps most important, how does a government-wired world affect our freedom? Maybe China’s current Internet policies give us some clues? Hopefully, not.

Read full article: