- 02 Jul 10
Is the age of the free internet drawing to a close at the behest of Wall Street and big business?
The Internet: what a long, strange trip it’s been.
Let’s say, for the sake of argument, it began some 25,000 years ago with nicks cut in reindeer bones and mammoth ivory representing notations of lunar sequences. Or maybe Stonehenge’s Aubrey holes, 18,000 years old, combining to function as a massive Bronze Age prototype digital computer which determined the position of sun and moon to within one degree of the circle, plus or minus.
Jump-cut to Chinese artisans designing automata two hundred years before the birth of Christ. Or Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz’s invention of the algorithm computer in 1694. Charles Babbage developed the Difference Engine in 1822, and ten years later, the Analytical Engine, on which Ada Lovelace, Byron’s illegitimate daughter, based her speculations on the ability of machines to imitate human intelligence. William S Burroughs, the writer’s grandfather, patented the first adding machine in 1888. Soon after that Herman Hollerith patented his electromechanical information machine, then founded the Tabulating Machine Company, now known as IBM.
In 1940, the world’s first operational computer, Robinson, was created by Ultra and used for decoding messages from Enigma, the Nazis’ enciphering machine. Two years later they developed the Colossus, at least a hundred times faster. In 1946, the US military unveiled the world’s first digital computer. Twelve years later ARPA was founded in order to out-Sputnik the Soviets. By 1983, IBM were selling almost six million personal computers a year in the States.
You know the rest. The advent of the internet in the 1990s represented the greatest technological revolution of the late 20th century. It wreaked havoc with pirating and censorship laws, utterly transformed the realm of global telecommunications and built a tower of Babel in every third living room.
And now, according to a recent article by Timothy Karr in the Huffington Post, the Internet is in danger of going the way of every frontier territory throughout history, tamed and regulated and harnessed by big business. Citing a Wall Street Journal report that the Federal Communications Commission recently held closed door meetings with industry lobbyists to broker a deal on Net Neutrality – the dictate that allows net users to determine their own usage of the medium – Karr portended the end of the free web as we know it. The lobbyists, he reported, represent AT&T, Verizon, the National Cable & Telecommunications Association, and Google, among others. The purpose of the meetings, according to insiders, was “to ‘reach consensus’ on rules of the road for the Internet.”
“This is what a failed democracy looks like,” Karr wrote. “After years of avid public support for Net Neutrality – involving millions of people from across the political spectrum – the federal regulator quietly huddles with industry lobbyists to eliminate basic protections and serve Wall Street’s bottom line. The Industry’s regulatory capture of the Internet is now almost complete. The one agency tasked with oversight of communications now thinks it can wriggle free of its obligation to protect the open Internet, if only it can get industry to agree on a solution.
He continues: “Will phone and cable companies succeed in their decade-long push to take ownership of both the infrastructure of the Internet and the information that flows across its pipes? Will they cut in a few giant companies like Google and the recording industry to get their way? Whatever the outcome, the public – including the tens of millions of Americans who use the Internet every day and in every way – are not being given a seat at the table.”