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Uncle Sam is your ISP

There aren’t many technologies that have come along recently that have as much disruptive potential for democratizing the infrastructure of the Internet as widespread wireless networking. Broadband Internet access is, currently, the more-or-less exclusive domain of behemoth telecommunications and cable companies — the Ma Bells and Comcasts of the world. It’s expensive, the providers are abusive and controlling, and the service sucks. But if we work at developing technologies that are available as we speak, all that can change; free wireless Internet access is becoming more and more available in businesses and public places, so that fewer people even need an ISP to provide a residential line; and with a co-operative provider, some technical know-how, and a small investment in networking equipment, you can easily form wireless community networks between yourself and your neighbors, effectively running a low-cost cooperative ISP out of your garage. It’s exciting, heady stuff, and a lot could change within a few years. And the growing availability of voice services and online content could mean that soon, cooperative neighborhood associations could provide your Internet, phone service, and television all in one low-cost package. (To get a glimmer of the potential, see Robert X. Cringley 2001-08-23: Roll Your Own; for the technical details, read Rob Flickenger’s Building Wireless Community Networks: Implementing the Wireless Web.)

So how are leading lights of the State going to respond to this potential revolution in people-first, grassroots network communications? Of course, it’s to bring it under the control of the regulatory State as quickly as possible. Item 1: earlier this month, the government of Winchester County decided to set a precedent by proposing that the government knows how to set up your wireless network better than you do. Item 2: House Democrats unveil an innovation agenda; one of the chief innovations that they hope for is a centralized, government-directed Nationwide deployment of high-speed, always-on broadband Internet and mobile communications. This will, of course, be attained by means of expanding federal telecom regulations, and providing tax-funded subsidies to large telecom companies.

Because Uncle Sam knows better than you do what kind of Internet service you want. There’s no greater expert on ever-changing network technology than a sclerotic, centralized bureaucracy. And there’s nowhere you can get better service than your local, accountable-to-the-people government-run municipal utility.

Or, as M. Proudhon put it:

To be GOVERNED is to be watched, inspected, spied upon, directed, law-driven, numbered, regulated, enrolled, indoctrinated, preached at, controlled, checked, estimated, valued, censured, commanded, by creatures who have neither the right nor the wisdom nor the virtue to do so. To be GOVERNED is to be at every operation, at every transaction noted, registered, counted, taxed, stamped, measured, numbered, assessed, licensed, authorized, admonished, prevented, forbidden, reformed, corrected, punished. It is, under pretext of public utility, and in the name of the general interest, to be place under contribution, drilled, fleeced, exploited, monopolized, extorted from, squeezed, hoaxed, robbed; then, at the slightest resistance, the first word of complaint, to be repressed, fined, vilified, harassed, hunted down, abused, clubbed, disarmed, bound, choked, imprisoned, judged, condemned, shot, deported, sacrificed, sold, betrayed; and to crown all, mocked, ridiculed, derided, outraged, dishonored. That is government; that is its justice; that is its morality.

P.-J. Proudhon (1851): General Idea of the Revolution in the Nineteenth Century (trans. John Beverly Robinson), Epilogue ¶ 39

Further reading

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