The Obama Way: Nationalizing The Internet

by Pejman Yousefzadeh on May 3, 2009

Meet Susan Crawford, the co-chair for the Federal Communications Commission transition team for Barack Obama, and special assistant to the President in the Obama Administration (she has a blog here). A former law professor at the University of Michigan–one presumes that she has either departed permanently, or is on leave–Professor Crawford has some interesting ideas concerning the Internet. Namely, she wants it treated like a public utility (subscription required):

Crawford stressed that the stimulus money is a down payment on future government investments in the Internet. “We should do a better job as a nation of making sure fast, affordable broadband is as ubiquitous as electricity, water, snail mail or any other public utility,” she said.

Of course, the use of the term “public utility” denotes nationalization:

Most of the time when I talk about the need to treat internet access like a utility, I get amused smiles.

That’s the thing we have to change — the idea that it’s unthinkable (amusing, even) that we could take this increasingly singular but private relationship of people to broadband internet access and make it a public relationship.

But end-users really don’t care whether their provider is a cable company or a telephone company — they think they’re getting the internet. They’re probably not even aware that a private company is providing internet access to them. And there are even a few people out there in the U.S., despite our best efforts, who don’t understand that these private companies have every incentive to prioritize and manipulate their way into showing us “channels” instead of the internet.

One wonders whether the Obama Administration’s penchant for nationalizing anything and everything under the sun will ever be abated.

DARPA may have created the Internet, but let’s remember that the Internet was able to thrive, grow and prosper thanks to more innovations in the private sector than one can shake a stick at. This should come as no surprise; capitalism’s and the free market’s ability to spur innovation concerning the growth and development of a particular commodity by providing financial rewards to those who do the best job of driving innovation has been well known for ages. By contrast, when it comes to government’s ability to spur growth and innovation, well, let’s let Crawford’s comment from the post linked above speak for itself:

It’s not clear that our government would even be particularly good at making fast internet access into a true public priority and resource.

I presume that this is Crawfordese for “Government would make a hash of the effort to make fast internet access into a true public priority and resource.” Despite her giveaway doubts, Crawford tells us that nationalization is necessary because a lot of services have now “become part of an enormous digital pond,” but be that as it may, government’s serial inability to drive innovation as well as the private sector does–an inability Crawford herself is forced to confess worry about–should rightfully put the kibosh on any nationalization effort.

Here’s hoping that it does. The Internet is far too important to leave in the hands of politicians and bureaucrats. I’d be remiss if I didn’t say, however, that given the Obama Administration’s nationalization fetish, I am deeply concerned that the Internet will indeed become yet another plaything for Washington to amuse itself with, and ultimately break.

Previous post:

Next post: